Mt. Vernon Register-News

April 2, 2013

Budget discussion gets heated

By RICK HAYES rick.hayes@register-news.com
The Register-News

---- — MT. VERNON — Still faced with a possible deficit of nearly $71,000 by the end of April, county officeholders could provide no useful input on how to deal with the crises in a meeting Monday at the courthouse.

Instead, the meeting turned into a battle of words between Sheriff Roger Mulch and County Chairman Robert White, who disagreed on the use of Public Safety funds.

Mulch suggested using Public Safety funds to pay claims in the sheriff's department, recommending taking $500,000 out of the fund in the next 60 days to help the county with its financial shortfall.

That drew an emotional response from White, who replied, "You can take the money. If it's Public Safety money, it's your money. You want a half-a-million? Is that what you want?"

Mulch answered, "I don't know what the heated discussion is about. I'm asking somebody to look into into it to see if it's possible."

White said it's already been looked into, and added, "You can have the money. You want a half-a-million?"

"What's the big holdup here," Mulch replied. "You're pulling your tie off and you're getting irate. I don't know what the deal is. I said over the next 90 days if we need some relief…."

White asked if the money would be replaced; Mulch asked if the County Board is going to replace it, or will his office replace it, adding, "It's public safety money."

"So we should just spend it and call it a day?" White asked.

"If it's legal and you're facing a circumstance …. where you could save some jobs or whatever. I didn't say we had to do it," Mulch said.

"We have to be solvent first," White said. "The job of this Board is be solvent. We've invested a lot of time and effort in this whole effort. What really bugs me, sheriff, is that we keep spending money, and for what purpose? You're convinced that we're going to have ICE back in how long?"

"If we can take money from Pile A that's not committed to anything, that's for public safety to help offset. Do I say we keep hiring people, no, I'm not saying that. I didn't mean to create any antagonism here," the sheriff said.

"You've just unbundled a major problem by even bringing that up or suggesting it," White countered. "How long has the union eyed that fund? And now you're saying publicly you have just put us all on point to have to release all that money."

The Public Safety Fund has about $1.5 million in its coffers, although when it was passed by the voters in a referendum several years ago it was intended to help pay down the debt of the new jail, according to local officials.

Treasurer Dan Knox reported the county still has approximately $238,000 in claims to be paid for February and March, although that figure includes $24,102 that were to be released on Monday. Knox also produced four-month averages for the county in revenues versus expenses. The county had an average of $882,940 in revenues and $919,304 in expenses, leaving a $36,365 deficit. The monthly average shortfall stands at $42,390. Knox reported the county will still be approximately $70,880 in the red at the end of April based on the county's anticipated expenses this month.

Meanwhile, a jail official reported some somewhat good news. Following conversations with Advance Healthcare Corrections — the vendor the county contracted with for medical services related to the housing of ICE detainees — it was revealed an inspection of the Justice Center may be forthcoming.

"They told me they would have all of our policies completed this week so I called Ricardo Long who is the director of the office of detention removal with immigration and he said he would be contacting the immigration medical supervisor to come and do the initial inspection of our facility," said Randy Pollard of the sheriff's office. "After that initial inspection of our facility we will receive detainees back and then we'll have another inspection 90 days out from that date. I can't say how many detainees we'll get back but I'm eager to find out what this date will be when we get this inspection."

Mulch said the purpose of the assessment is to make sure procedures are in place and it's being followed.

"They check things, kind of hit and miss, and then we get detainees, immediate. Then 90 days later they do a full inspection to make sure everything is working like it should," he said.

County officials noted there are currently three detainees being held by the U.S. Marshal's Office. The county has had no ICE detainees since last December when they were withdrawn by federal officials because of medical issues.

Local officials have estimated it will take at least 90 days before the county will be able to see an improvement in cash flow when ICE detainees return to the Justice Center.

When ICE prisoners are returned, the county will have to deal with additional personnel expenses. It was estimated if the county receives 50 ICE detainees, at least 14 correctional officers will need to be recalled.

"If we get one, 15 or 30, we'll spend at least $50,000 per month in personnel expenses," White estimated. "That means you'll do that for two straight months and then you should start seeing ICE revenue coming back in."

Board member Jim Laird said the only way the county can make reductions is by cutting staff.

"I hate to say it, but the cuts will probably have to come from the sheriff's department. I can't see how we can cut any more employees at the courthouse. If that's the case, is there any 'what ifs?'

"We'll cut what we have to, what we're told to cut. In my division, that's where the citizens do without," Mulch said.

White said every officeholder has wants, adding, "Once we get done with this cutting there's going to be people with real needs. Right now people are doing without certain needs but they can get through the interim."

White announced there will be a special Board meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday "to address this further and to make a determination on what we have to cut now and deal with the realities right now. We've got to consider wherever we can cut, we've got to cut. There is no room for error here. We've got to get it done."