By Kristi Reed
After receiving an extra $606,800 last month to cover cost overruns at the Sheriff’s Office for fiscal year 2008, Sheriff Joel Robinson is now asking for more money.
Last month, the Board of Commissioners approved a budget amendment which gave Robinson funds to cover an additional $230,000 in salaries and wages, $52,000 in fuel costs, $122,000 for prisoner medical expenses, $95,000 for prisoner food, $19,000 for maintenance and an extra $60,000 for outside prisoner housing beyond what was originally budgeted for FY08.
After receiving the extra funds, the Sheriff’s Office then submitted additional invoices in excess of the amount approved by the Board of Commissioners.
Chief Financial Officer Beth Horacek notified Robinson that there was not enough money left in the department’s budget to pay all of the remaining 2008 invoices.
In a memorandum dated October 15, Horacek advised Robinson that financial administration would not pay the invoices without authorization from the Barrow County Board of Commissioners.
Of the extra $144,300 in invoices that Robinson submitted, enough department funds remain to cover only $79,000 of the bills. The remaining $65,300 in invoices are currently unfunded and are not covered by a purchase order, according to Horacek.
The recently submitted invoices include:
• a $129,300 bill dated September 2008 from the Hall County Sheriff’s Office for prisoner housing.
• a $2,100 bill from the Hall County Sheriff’s Office for inmate medical expenses.
• a December 2007 bill for $4,900 from Comnetix Inc. for Eagle mobile support.
• a $4,000 bill from August 2007 from Comnetix Inc. for labor.
• a September bill for $1,200 in equipment repairs.
• three bills totaling over $1,800 in cell phone charges.
Of greatest concern to Horacek is the $129,000 bill for prisoner housing. The Sheriff’s budget allocates $80,000 each month for that expense.
Horacek said she could not understand how the Sheriff’s Office expenditures for outside prisoner housing could increase over 50 percent from one month to the next.
“That is one that puzzles me. I can’t see that you would go out and arrest that many more people,” she said.
Horacek informed the Sheriff that he would either have to pay the bills out of his own funds or go before the commissioners and ask for additional money.
“They are more in a position to explain what their expenses are than I am,” she said.
Sheriff Robinson said he currently has no plans to appear before the Board of Commissioners.
According to Robinson, many of the invoices in question will be paid out of the department’s confiscated funds.
As for the increase in outside prisoner housing expenses, Robinson said those costs are simply related to booking more inmates and having the prisoners incarcerated longer.
In May, a total of 368 inmates were booked into the jail. By September, that number had risen to 482. The jail had a daily average of 150 prisoners in May compared to 162 in September. In that same time period, prisoners housed in other facilities increased from 62 in May to 107 in September.
Robinson said the detention center can only handle a certain number of inmates and must send the extra prisoners to other facilities.
The invoice dispute is just the latest chapter in the ongoing financial battle between the county and the Sheriff’s Office.
On October 10, Robinson sent an open records request to Barrow County commission chairman Doug Garrison, chief administrator Keith Lee, human resources director Norma Jean Brown and Horacek.
Robinson requested access to 15 different categories of documentation including banking transactions, personnel records and budget information.
County employees in several departments were given three days to provide any “electronic mail, letters, internal memorandums, Barrow County Board of Commissioner minutes, and personal notes and/or emails related to the financial process of the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office and the Barrow County Detention Center” for the period covering October 1, 2005 to September 30, 2008.
Horacek said she is unsure why Robinson has requested the documentation from the past three years, but suspects it is because the county has brought the fact that the Sheriff’s Office ended the year over budget to the public’s attention.
“I guess they want to put the blame somewhere else, but, basically, they are responsible for managing their budget,” she said.
Adding more fuel to the fire is a recently completed audit of the Sheriff’s finances.
Horacek and her department conducted the audit to determine why the Sheriff’s Office went from under-budget at mid-year to well over budget by the end of the year.
“Mainly what we were doing was looking at any payroll records,” she said. “Our concern was that the actual payroll expenses were out of touch with the budgeted numbers.”
Horacek said there were some irregularities that were reported to the Board of Commissioners. The audit report has not been finalized and is not yet available for public review.
Horacek said the next move is up to the sheriff.
“I am just holding the invoices,” she said. “If he wants them paid, I think he should explain it to the commissioners.”