New rules make figures confusing

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Sheriff's budget remains well within projected state figures; however, county contribution well over budgeted amount in 2013-14

By Thomas Barr

SHEPHERDSVILLE -- The Bullitt County Sheriff's Office has a budget for the 2014 calendar year of over $4.3 million.

And, thanks to the county's population growing over 70,000, fees offices like the sheriff and county clerk fall under a different type of fiscal management.

It is that different form of managing money that may have led to an interesting series of discussions recently in Bullitt Fiscal Court.

Larry Coy inquired what the magistrates were doing to deal with the sheriff department running $500,000 over budget in its funding from the county.

He also wondered if that amount would double by the end of the fiscal year in June.

"Taxpayers will have to pay for it," said Coy.

He questioned where the fiscal court oversight was for financial matters.

Magistrate Robert Hunt asked Coy if he was concerned or if he was hoping to get a political office out of the situation.

(Coy is a former deputy sheriff whose former boss, Donnie Tinnell, is running against incumbent David Greenwell in the May primary.)

"It looks a little tainted," said Hunt.

Coy countered by stating he was a concerned taxpayer but understood that it might look political.

The figures referenced by Coy came from the monthly appropriation report produced through the treasurer's office.

The county pays a portion of funds to the sheriff's department for its operation. These funds are in addition to the fees collected.

In the current fiscal court budget, which runs from July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2014, the county had appropriated $629,400.07 through March 31 for sheriff's deputies pay. This is $329,400.07 higher than budgeted.

In the health insurance line item, the county had paid $359,169.79, which is $107,169.79 more than budgeted.

Other line items in the budget amounted to about $128,000 were basically within the amount set aside.

"If I didn't know the situation, I'd be concerned, too," said Greenwell.

According to Greenwell and his finance officer, Myrtle French, due to the financial setup of the county, the situation is not that bad.

While the county works off a fiscal year budget, the sheriff's office has a calendar year budget.

In the budget ending Dec. 31, 2013, the sheriff's office had receipts of $4,314,300 and disbursements of $4,303,447. This produced excess fees of over $94,000.

Under the new arrangement, French said all the sheriff's revenue goes to the state of Kentucky. The state will in turn pay for all the bills incurred by the office, including payroll.

Of the eligible fees, 25 percent is returned to county coffers, not the sheriff's office.

Greenwell said the fiscal court members have the option of keeping that money or returning it to the sheriff's office. Fiscal court has opted to return those fees.

Without the money, Greenwell said any sheriff would basically have to reduce his or her expenses by the 25 percent.

A problem with the entire setup is that Greenwell said that there was one meeting with state officials for training. Through that one meeting, Greenwell said the local staff had to learn the entire state system.

"It's confusing," said Greenwell.

So how does one budget state that the sheriff's earned excess fees and another says he is $435,000 in the red with three months to go in the fiscal year?

French said one issue is that in the county's budget, it appropriates about $780,00 for the sheriff's office. Deputy county judge Lisa Craddock said that is the only amount listed in the budget for the sheriff's department.

(Retirement funds are also paid by the county in a separate line item.)

In the sheriff's budget to the state, that number is $1.388 million.

The county's budget does not account for the $550,000 that fiscal court agreed to pay back to the sheriff's office. It is this area where French believes has caused much of the confusion.

Combining the two figures, the county would be back close to the $1.33 million.

French said that since the county government ended its police department, it has paid the sheriff's department $25,000 per month. That should be the only expense drawn against that particular line item.

Greenwell said he was very proud that his actual budget for 2013 was in line with the projections.

The $4,090,500 proposed budget turned into an actual spending of $4,155,841.99.

Of that amount, the biggest underestimation came in the area of health insurance. Budgeted to spend $225,000, the actual cost turned out to be $335,899.82. This amount was paid by the county.

"Our budget was in line for 2013 and it is in line so far in 2014," said Greenwell.

In putting together her first quarter budget recap, French said that it appeared some expenses might be higher due to some vacation pay due for employees who left the office and health insurance rates continue to increase.

A big concern throughout the state is the high cost of hazardous duty retirement. That percentage is about 35 percent of a person's salary.

Greenwell said a budget is just a plan and it is difficult to predict things like gas prices, equipment issues and personnel changes.

"We're operating within our budget," said Greenwell.

And at the end of the first quarter of 2014, the expenditures of $1.08 million was just about at the 25 percent mark. The total budget for 2014 is $4.2 million.

Craddock said she is working to figure out any concerns.

However, she said that the county has in fact paid out more than had been budgeted for the sheriff's department.

Craddock said she knows the county was not budgeted to send the $1.3 million to the sheriff's department. And she knows that in the 2014-15 proposed budget, the court is scheduled to spend $736,300 for the sheriff's department, compared to $680,600 in the current fiscal year. The county also picks up the social security benefits in a separate line item.

One reason the line item for sheriff's deputies is over budget is that the county automatically paid the $25,000. Plus, it was getting billed, a practice which has been stopped.

Through the end of March, the county had sent $629,400.27 to the sheriff's department for the deputy pay. The $300,000 was budgeted.

The county has spent $359,169.79 on health insurance, which is $107,169.79 over the original budget. Craddock said $342,000 will be set aside in the proposed budget.

The only other line item from the county which is over budget is for phones. The budgeted amount was $8,000 and the county has given the sheriff's office $13,420.43. Other line items are at 100 percent spent due to transferring any unused funds to categories needing revenue.

In terms of receipts from the state for the 25 percent fees, the county has received $306,521.27, which includes funds for both the sheriff and the county clerk. That figure was budgeted at $656,000 and it will be lowered to $500,000 for next year.

French and Craddock both said they know the state is behind in sending payments. In the first quarter of the current fiscal year, Bullitt County received no funds from the state.

Craddock said the county has no control over the budget presented by the sheriff. It is accepted for the record by fiscal court.

The county magistrates received their first copy of the proposed budget on April 25. It must receive final approval by the end of June.


Gun play

After the discussion by Coy talked about taxpayer concerns, Greenwell threw out an issue for fiscal court guidance.

The sheriff said two men in the audience were in possession of stolen firearms. He was seeking advice from fiscal court on how that should be handled.

Coy and Kenny Hardin were the recipients of guns from Tinnell at the end of his term, according to Greenwell.

"That's tax dollars," Greenwell said of the county property that was given to the two individuals.

"Can we forgive a crime?" asked Greenwell. "I don't think we can forgive a crime."

But magistrates Ruthie Ashbaugh and Robert Hunt said they would be satisfied if the guns were returned. Neither expressed any desire to press charges.

Magistrates Joe Laswell and John Bradshaw were fine with having the guns returned.

County attorney Monica Robinson said the court members can make a motion on how to deal with the situation.

Ashbaugh's motion was for Greenwell to write a letter to the two individuals and to give them until April 29 to return the firearms. Any charges would be at the discretion of the sheriff.

Greenwell said he wasn't interested in pressing charges. He just wanted the county property returned.

Coy said it was his understanding from the prior county attorney that such a transaction could be done. He said it was not a situation where the two men just took the guns.

Former county attorney Walt Sholar said he did not recall personally having any such conversation. He said it would not be proper to give away any county property without going through the legal procedures set out.

Resident Sandy Higgins inquired how long Greenwell knew about the missing guns.

Greenwell said he has been aware of the situation for a couple of months but was not intending to bring up the matter since it was election time. However, since both individuals were at the fiscal court meeting and the issue over taxpayer concerns was mentioned, it was an excellent time to bring it up.

Robinson said she would research the matter.

The court voted 4-0 to have Greenwell write the letter to collect the weapons. County judge Melanie Roberts abstained until she got a report from Robinson on her findings.

The guns have been returned to the sheriff's office.