Cole County sheriff's budget to be studied

As they go through the budget process for 2014, Cole County commissioners plan to take more time with the budget for the sheriff’s department.

“Almost every other department budget we have is pretty straightforward, but this budget has a lot of details to go through,” said Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger.

From all sources, including the one-half cent law enforcement sales tax, the sheriff’s department revenue for 2014 is projected at $12.1 million.

The sheriff’s budget includes looking at areas such as the jail, the patrol division and vehicles for the department.

For the jail, the department is requesting three new full-time employees, one for their transport team between the jail and courthouse, and the other two for processing paperwork during the day and evening shifts at the jail.

Figures provided by the sheriff’s department show the jail population has exceeded the department’s 2012 projections of a daily population of 150. The average population through October of this year was 161.

Jail Superintendent Victor Pitman said the increased workload is due to many factors:

• Video court which went from two sessions a week in 2012 to four sessions in 2013.

• Meals served going up 18 percent from 2,798 per week to 3,435 per week.

• Increased incidents in the jail going up from 325 last year to 699 as of Aug. 31 this year.

• There’s been high turnover in staff with 16 employees leaving. There have also been six jail employees who transferred to the patrol or other divisions of the sheriff’s department.

• A pre-trial release program started in the summer has reduced the housing population, but Pitman said the numbers of those being processed through the jail is still high and requires an increased workload in booking.

The program calls for each defendant charged with a felony who remained in jail and unable to make bond for more than three days to be screened through a pre-trial release coordinator. This person would collect information and give it to the judges, showing whether a defendant would qualify for pre-trial release.

The coordinator, with assistance of court marshals, would implement supervision services such as call-ins, drug testing, monitor violations and verification of residency and employment.

Pitman said the increased workload and turnover/transfers to other divisions reduces the time available to train employees while increasing the training that is needed for new employees.

Every new jailer has at least 120 hours of training.

As far as transporting prisoners, Pitman said they’ve been running about 70-80 transports a month, including transports to the courthouse daily for hearings with up to five inmates at different times and up to 20 inmates when judges have their law day dockets.

Pitman is asking the commission for an increase in $100,000 in its part-time budget since workload and growth actually would require the department to hire at least three new people per shift, for a total of 12, but he said they know that’s not economically feasible.

Another part of the sheriff’s budget is the patrol division where they are asking for a full-time clerk to take care of criminal reports and other office matters. One of their main jobs would be to research and assist with preparation of criminal intelligence reports to be distributed within the department and other law enforcement agencies.

The division would also like to have a part-time evidence custodian. They would process evidence and store it, maintain records and files of evidence. The evidence currently in storage at the sheriff’s department storage facility has been inherited over the past 20 years and in some cases even longer. New evidence comes in daily and is often stored in lockers for days, sometimes weeks, until it can been gone through by sheriff’s personnel. A clerk could help with the current backlog, get evidence ready for trials and allow investigators to stay in the field if they need to do more work on cases.

Also in the sheriff’s budget is a program to maintain their vehicle fleet.

“It’s currently recommended that 20 percent of a fleet should be replaced every year,” said Chief Deputy Capt. John Wheeler. “This optimised the higher value of vehicles for resale and the lower costs of maintenance. For instance, the Cole County Ambulance Service was able to cut its maintenance bills in half by getting a good fleet replacement program. They continue to keep newer vehicles in place to keep their maintenance costs low.”

Wheeler says of the 45 vehicles in the fleet, 38 would need to be in a rotation program. He would recommend rotating out eight vehicles a year.

“We will buying the Ford Utility Explorer,” he said. “These vehicles are all-wheel drive and are pursuit rated. The value of these SUVs at resale was also taken into consideration. The Kelly Blue Book value for a 2010 Ford Explorer in fair condition lists at $12,803. I am putting $10,000 per vehicle for resale to be on the safe side. After three years, we believe the value of the vehicles should help a great deal to offset the costs of the program.”

Sheriff Greg White said he appreciated the commission wanting to take more time to look at his department’s needs and understands there’s only so much they can do.

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