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County budget talks begin
Sheriff: 'Getting a hold' of finances
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Forsyth County News

The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office on Monday kicked off a week of finance committee meetings with elected officials to discuss 2014 budget requests.

County Manager Doug Derrer said the initial projection estimates the 2014 general fund revenue at about $94.1 million, though that number will be finalized once the tax digest is complete in July.

Budget requests to provide the same service level totaled about $93.5 million, Derrer said.

However, department heads and others detailed about $9 million in requests for new items, positions or services.

“When you compare those numbers, we’re looking at a shortfall now of just over $8 million for the 2014 preliminary budget,” Derrer said. “In my five years, there’s typically been a shortfall, but we work through those numbers with directors, elected officials and of course we balance those numbers and take it to the board [of commissioners.]”

The finance committee has announced that the commission plans to pass a budget without raising the millage rate.

The sheriff’s office typically encompasses the largest portion of the county’s general fund, usually more than one-third.

The 2014 “same service budget,” which the finance committee requests for review, showed a drop of about $700,000 from the 2013 adjusted budget of about $35.3 million.

New requests, however, could lead to an increase from 2013, and most of those needs are aligned with the opening of a new courthouse and jail.

To prepare and train for those facilities, the sheriff’s office plans to begin hiring in spring, and has requested about 75 percent of those added personnel costs for next year’s requested budget.

Sheriff Duane Piper suggested that the commission create a reserve account with the estimated amount needed for jail and courthouse positions, which will be submitted later this week.

“It’s not just put into our budget so that it actually can be used specifically for one purpose,” Piper said, “and that’s to hire new employees for the new facilities. It separates it out from the budget. So when we’re using it, the commission will know what we’re using it for.”

The number of positions that will need to be hired prior to the December 2014 opening hasn’t been finalized for the detention center, but about 31 employees likely will join the 40 existing ones in the courthouse since both buildings will remain in use, said Maj. Matt Hester.

The annual cost for those court personnel is estimated at $1.6 million.

Hester said the existing jail has about 50 positions, and he expects at least 75 will be needed to operate the new facility.

A full capacity new detention center would need about 153 people, he said, though it isn’t expected to reach 600 inmates anytime soon. The current inmate population, including those housed out, totals about 300.

The number of inmates is decreasing statewide, so the cost of housing them elsewhere is favorable based on supply and demand, Piper said.

Also, whether four inmates are in a pod or the maximum 64, one supervisor is needed in the new jail, he said.

In some cases, the court orders separation of inmates, he said, and so it may be more cost effective to house them out than hire another jailer.

Those discussions will continue as the agency works toward bringing the new jail on line.

The finance committee also reviewed the agency’s request for 37 replacement Dodge Chargers in 2014, at an estimated cost of $1.6 million.

Maj. Rick Doyle said the average pursuit vehicle has about 141,000 miles on it, which is causing fleet maintenance costs to rise annually.

“A typical pursuit vehicle should be taken out of service at about 100,000 miles,” Doyle said.

He said the agency is working on creating a scheduled replacement of vehicles so the purchases won’t get delayed and put pressure on maintenance costs.

The office also plans to standardize patrol cars to Chargers and the existing Ford Crown Victorias to reduce the variety in models that can increase upkeep expenses.

Piper added that the office is in the process of completing a forensic audit of the accounts to get a handle on expenses and track spending.

Last week, he requested a return of $3.7 million from the $5 million that was being held in a reserve account.

Piper said the funding had been cut by the previous administration from necessary line items, like inmate housing, causing the agency to draw from other areas.

The returned amount was intended to keep accounting in line.

“We’re getting a hold of the budget,” he said.