Mt. Vernon Register-News

December 11, 2012

County Board votes to reduce budget

The Fiscal Year 2012-2013 budget was reduced from $12.7M to $9.9M

By RORYE O’CONNOR
rorye.oconnor@register-news.com

MT. VERNON — — The Jefferson County Board on Monday voted unanimously to reduce the Fiscal Year 2012-2013 budget from $12.7 million to $9.9 million.

The budget was cut in response to Immigration and Customs Enforcement pulling its detainees from the Jefferson County Justice Center due to health standards violations.

Jefferson County Board Chairman Robert White said absent ICE housing, the county’s income for the year will be at about $9.3 million. He recommended to the board to keep the budget open for 60 days. The board must later make another cut of $700,000 to equalize income and expenses.

He said the gap of revenue from housing ICE detainees will cost the county about $260,000 to $280,000 per month, and corresponding cuts to expenses must be made. The county’s single biggest expense is salaries, White said.

Most areas of the county budget were reduced.

In the sheriff’s office budget, $1.5 million was budgeted — the board voted to reduce the budget to $1.1 million, a reduction equal to the layoffs of five deputies, one major and one telecommunicator.

White said the county board can’t tell departments how to make cuts, just the amount of money they are allotted.

All non-union employees of the county whose salaries are paid from the General Corporate Fund will take a 20 percent cut in income, White said. This does not include Jefferson County Highway Department employees, whose salaries are paid from motor fuel tax funds.

White said the 20 percent reduction in salary will come about as a four-day work week most likely; he said he hopes the union employees under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will agree to a similar arrangement instead of layoffs.

Overtime pay in the Sheriff’s Department budget was halved to $25,000 under the new budget agreements; the sheriff’s materials line item was reduced to $86,400 from $106,900. Cuts were also made in the line items for uniform allowances, gas and oil, meetings, training and seminars.

The sheriff’s equipment line item was reduced from $206,600 to $146,371, with cuts to vehicle repair and replacements; jail services was cut from $1.6 million to $909,590, with cuts to the maintenance supervisor, nurses and lieutenants.

The jail materials line item was cut from $735,000 to $657,500, the equivalent of nine correctional officers, and overtime pay was cut from $120,000 to $25,000.

White said he expects the food expenses for the jail to go up, because with less detainees to feed, it will lose its bulk discount.

The jail equipment budget was cut from $189,700 to $137,300, including cuts to maintenance and cell phones. The courthouse services line item was cut to $175,977 from $194,280, which included reductions in custodian salaries and overtime pay. The Merit Commission materials line item was cut by about $5,000.

Most other county offices received cuts under the new budget as well, with the exception of the circuit judge. Jefferson County Executive Assistant Suzy Tate said the reductions are still being finalized — the Fiscal Committee of the Whole will meet 7 p.m. Thursday and another special board meeting is scheduled for next week to further fine tune the budget cuts.

County Board member Jim Laird made the motion to approve the action, saying that nobody wanted to make the tough decisions facing the board. John Keele seconded the motion.

“We hope that this is going to be temporary,” White said.

Jefferson County Sheriff Roger Mulch said the jail has been faced with sharp cuts before.

“We will look aggressively in our budgets to see what we can do, while maintaining safety in the streets and in the jail,” he said. “I hope that this is very, very short term, and I will work day and night to ensure that.”

Mulch gave an update on the status of ICE housing at the JCJC, saying currently there are no ICE detainees at the jail.

He told the County Board the reason ICE rapidly pulled its detainees from the jail last week is because ICE found two instances in which detainee paperwork did not document the medical care performed on detainees while they were at the facility.

“The problem was human error from employees not filling out paperwork and I’ll take full responsibility for it,” Mulch said.

In order for ICE to begin transporting its detainees to the JCJC again, the jail must provide a written plan of action, Mulch said, and the plan of action must revamp the medical system at the jail to take care of the problem with documentation and staffing issues.

Mulch detailed the jail’s issues with keeping a 12-person part-time nurse division staffed, adding that shortly before ICE began removing its detainees from the jail, its physician and physician’s assistant tendered their resignation effective Jan. 1 as well. He said they resigned due to the increased cost of liability insurance and the lack of medical staff at the facility.

White said there had been a huge amount of turnover in the part-time nurse division, going from 11 staff members to one in 10 payrolls.

He said sheriff’s office command staff have begun meeting with physicians and vendors to determine how much it could cost to provide medical staff to the jail. The cost was previously budgeted at about $300,000, but if a vendor is the best choice, it could cost $600,000 or more to meet the 2008 standards set by ICE, Mulch said. He said there are three options:  To hire local doctors who could provide their own nurses, to hire a doctor and have the jail hire nurses, or to contract a vendor who takes care of all staffing independently.

JCSO Maj. Martin Schwartz said an independent vendor would assume all liability insurance and staffing responsibilities; he said this relationship would be the least stressful on the department.

“The environment for us is to turn it over and write a check,” he said. “I met with one vendor today for an hour and a half.”

Mulch said it could take 30 to 60 days to take care of the staffing issue, depending on who is hired. He said ICE Assistant Field Office Director James K. Bond told him that ICE has pulled detainees from each of the six locations in this three-state region temporarily for one reason or another, and that this issue is not the end of the JCJC’s relationship with ICE.

He said once the medical issues are resolved, detainees can be returned nearly as quickly as they were yanked from the jail. He said in order to make sure the paperwork doesn’t leave the facility unfinished again, a superintendent will be in place to check it, and a cover sheet with checkpoints will be added to the paperwork as well.