Muscogee County Sheriff Donna Tompkins informed Columbus Council Tuesday that she has exceeded her fiscal year 2017 budget by $419,000.
Tompkins said most of the money was spent on bailiffs and reserve deputies used for security at the Citizen Services Center, Government Center and local courts. She said the expense was budgeted at $311,000, when historically it has cost about $700,000.
Two of the cost-savings initiatives that she planned for the year just went into affect, she explained, and it’s too early to see results.
“First off, I’d like to say, this is not really shocking to us,” she said. “When I took over, we estimated that this particular budget would probably be around $400,000 over, and there really wasn’t a lot that we could do about that.”
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Her comments were backed up by City Finance Director Angelica Alexander, who highlighted the changes that Tompkins has made in the department.
“One of those things that came to council recently was the change in pharmaceuticals at the jail as opposed to buying those from an outside vendor,” Alexander said. “They have amended the contract with the jail provider who supplies those pharmaceuticals, that was actually supposed to begin first of August.”
Another big change — the elimination of gap time — took effect in July, she said.
In the end, councilors approved the additional funding with a unanimous vote. They also approved more funding for Probate Court Judge Marc D’Antonio, who exceeded his fiscal year 2017 budget by $3,800.
Tompkins replaced John Darr as sheriff in January, after defeating him in a 2016 run-off election. Before leaving office, Darr sued the city over budgeting issues, arguing that the budget set by elected officials had hindered his ability to fulfill his constitutional duties. Tompkins dismissed the lawsuit after being elected to office.
In an April letter to Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, Tompkins said she had been reviewing contracts and operations to identify potential cost saving opportunities, as well as potential revenue streams.
Her plans included, among other things, the renegotiation of several contracts signed by Darr, which were expected to save hundreds of thousands of dollars.
On Tuesday, Tompkins said she plans to save about $350,000 in 2018 due to the elimination of gap time and pharmacy changes. But she doesn’t foresee additional expenses for bailiffs and reserve deputies ending anytime soon. She said that line-item was budgeted at $600,000 in 2009 and at only $300,000 in 2017.
“... I would love to fill those with full-time people and have that come out of my personnel budget,” she said. “But currently we’re kind of having to use reserve deputies. You’ll notice them here at the Citizens Service Center. You’ll notice them at the Government Center. You’ll notice them doing court duties. So that’s what we’re having to pull from currently to meet the needs that we have.”
Tomlinson thanked Tompkins for being upfront with the information.
“I tell you one thing, we appreciate the fact that we know what it is,” she said. “One of the most frustrating things for staff, I know, is when you say, ‘Well, there’s this much of an overrun, but there are all these bills that we don’t know are coming in, and it could be more.’”