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FCSO faces funding gap
Unrealistic expectations in 2010 hamper future
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Forsyth County News
In a meeting to review funding requests for 2011, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office reported a bleak outlook for meeting its 2010 budget.

“I just can’t create miracles when there’s bills to pay,” Sheriff Ted Paxton told the county’s finance committee Wednesday. “We’re just robbing from Peter to pay Paul ... Eventually, there’s not going to be any money left.”

The department has been shuffling money between budgeted items and accounts to meet needs, Paxton said. Those needs include gasoline for patrol cars, an account that was depleted in April.

The account had been budgeted less than $300,000 for 2010, compared to more than $700,000 in 2009.

Expenses for the year are exceeding the planned spending by 4 percent, something that could be chalked up to the approved 2010 plan.

“As I recall, we said, ‘We need $3 million from the sheriff,’” Commissioner Jim Harrell said. “And you said, ‘I can do that.’ I guess my question is what happened?”

The sheriff said the $3 million came entirely from the office’s operating expenses, leaving about $3.1 million, or about enough to cover just inmate housing, medical and meals.

“The amount of our budget had unrealistic expectations from it,” Paxton said.

He said allowing the county to slash $3 million from his 2010 budget was something he couldn’t control.

“If that’s all there is you can fund our budget with, then that’s all there is,” he said.

Controller Bob Shaw predicted the sheriff’s office will have a budget shortfall between $2.5 million and $2.8 million this year.

In making requests for 2011, the sheriff asked to double the operating expenses alloted from 2010, at a total of $6.2 million.

The agency also sought increases in other items that have been neglected through the past budget cycles.

Paxton told the committee this is the third year without any proposed funding in the county’s vehicle replacement fund.

He said 24 patrol cars need to be replaced this year before the county will be in “a very deep hole” of needing to buy a large amount at once.

The sheriff’s office and finance committee agreed some money could be saved on vehicles by reusing parts from older patrol cars.

Employee layoffs have not been discussed, though officials said the department will defer vacant positions. The sheriff acknowledged that benefits will “be driven by what’s available.”

Like other county departments, the sheriff’s office has looked for places to cut in anticipation of difficult budgeting, such as adding triple bunk beds in the jail.

“We’ll continue to squeeze where we can squeeze,” Shaw said.