Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones submitted a preliminary general fund budget of $43.7 million for next year, which represents a 9.2% hike over this year’s budget and expenses they say are needed to get back to pre-COVID-19 normalcy.
He is proposing in his tax budget to spend $43.7 million from the general fund, a $3.7 million hike over this year’s budget. The proposed increase is $13.5 million more than was actually spent last year, when the county commissioners required deep budget cuts due to the pandemic.
Including all non-general fund expenses, like those from grants and outside income including the $4 million contract for the Liberty Twp. sheriff’s outpost, the total projected budget is $50 million.
“The commissioners asked for very painful concessions,” Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer told the Journal-News. “We answered that call and during that time did not have the luxury of just stopping what we do and working from home. I had no one working remotely, we all had to come to work every day. We got through it and now we’re asking that the commissioners consider the contractual increases and what’s needed to operate our operation appropriately.”
In their tax budget guidelines the commissioners asked everyone to hold to what they spent in 2019 before the pandemic blew everything up last year. For the sheriff that meant $39 million.
When the pandemic hit the commissioners asked all offices, departments and independent boards that rely on the general fund to cut 7.4% over two years due to a projected deep drop in revenues from the coronavirus pandemic. The sheriff eliminated 14 positions, froze hiring and overtime and took other steps to comply.
Personnel is the largest chunk of any budget and for the sheriff it is huge. In his proposal the 14 eliminated positions could be restored and it also accounts for renegotiating all of the sheriff’s union contracts that are expiring.
County Administrator Judi Boyko said the commissioners are cognizant there will be extenuating circumstance in many budget submissions.
“The board of commissioners completely acknowledges the outstanding matters that may merit funding beyond the requested 2019 actual expenses,” Boyko said. “We talked about collective bargaining obligations and negotiations being one of them.”
The sheriff also provides a healthy portion of the general fund revenues, collecting $10.1 million by boarding outside prisoners in the jail, or 8.8% of the $114 million collected in the general fund last year.
Jones recently announced he was cancelling his contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that included housing detainees awaiting immigration hearings.
The sheriff houses inmates from county jurisdictions as well as those in cooperation with the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Bureau of Prisons. Dwyer said that revenue item will not be disrupted by the contract cancellation.
“They had reduced their prisoners so significantly that reducing them even more, we already picked up additional Marshals prisoners so we’re not seeing any economic impact to that...,” Dwyer said. “We had 40-some inmates, they dropped it down to 18 and I picked up 30 Marshals prisoners just the other day.”
The tax budget is a rough draft of what the county believes it will collect in revenues and spend the next year. The commissioners pass it in the summer and hold budget hearings with each office holder, department head and independent boards in October. The final budget is ratified in December.
Officials say many things can change between now and then.
“The tax budgets never come out at the end of the process the way they go in,” Commissioner Don Dixon said. “Our philosophy hasn’t changed as commissioners, we’re going to maintain services to the level our residents want but we’re not going to give the store away.”