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FC Sheriff’s Budget a Hot Topic

The Franklin County Quorum Court had a short agenda, Thursday, but spent a long time discussing the County Jail budget and the county’s general budget planning process. An Appropriation Ordinance to take $17,000 from un-appropriated Jail expenditures to purchase a vehicle for Sheriff’s Department CID officer (Criminal Investigation Detective) was approved 6/3. Appropriation Ordinance in the Juvenile Probation budget for a $1,000 Franklin County Teen Court Scholarship passed 9/0. All Justices were present.

During the discussion of Sheriff’s Department finances, Assistant Franklin County Sheriff, Devin Bramlett said the department’s current administration has been working very hard to save money and turned back $126,000 in savings to the county last year in hopes of using this money to pay off four new vehicles purchased in the past two years. However instead of going into the jail budget, Bramlett said the $126,000 in turn back funds had been transferred to county general funds and used to fund salary increases for full time county employees.

“We feel like our department is under constant scrutiny, and were in the “black.” Other county departments consistently operate in the “red”, but you never hear anything about that,” said Bramlett.

Court Justices, who have been excluded from the budget making process for the past two years, seemed surprised by this information. Former County Judge Joe Powell disbanded the court’s budget committee in 2011. The past two county budgets were compiled by a committee made up entirely of court house employees, with the completed budget presented to the court for a final vote.

Justice Chad Haberer, who was concerned that the Sheriff’s Department could not pay for another vehicle when it still had four vehicles to pay off, said he had not been aware the jail was able to reduce its budgeted expenditures enough to save $126,000 or that the saved money had been transferred to the general fund rather than kept in the Sheriff’s Department budget.

Harberer also said the Sheriff’s department and the county needs to form a “long range planning committee” to set a schedule of future expenditures and that Quorum Court members need to be included in the budget process again.

Justice Freddy Ree and others agreed with Harberer on the need for long range planning and involvement by Justices in future budgets.

When asked about next year’s budget planning strategy, Franklin County Judge Janet Powell said the budget planning process will start in October and once the budget is set by the various department heads, it will be presented to the Quorum Court for a final vote. She also said the Quorum Court’s budget committee was disbanded two years ago when it was learned that some other Arkansas counties did not include Quorum Court members in the budget planning process.

Actions Taken

After further discussion on the vehicle purchase, both pro and con, six Justices voted for purchase and three Justices voted against the vehicle purchase. However, a final decision on whether a used vehicle for approximately $17,000 as requested by Bramlett or a new vehicle, which Bramlett estimated at $25,000, is purchased depends on wholesale prices offered by the state law enforcement buying service and local sources. Yes votes for the purchase were given by Justices David Bowles, who presented the motion calling it a “public safety issue”, Mary Jane Cains who seconded the motion, Rusty Cagle, David Hewitt, Freddy Ree and Paul Schaffer. No votes included Chad Harberer, Lacey Neissl and Garrett Shepherd.

A $1,000 college scholarship taken from Juvenile Probation Funds passed 9/0. The scholarship draws applicants from high schools in Franklin County including Charleston, County Line, Pleasant View and Ozark. All applicants are high achieving “model students” and must submit an essay to be considered. This year’s winner is from Ozark High School.

Hiring a medical screening service such as ACH (Advanced Correctional Healthcare) to handle inmate health concerns was discussed again at this month’s meeting. While no action was taken at the June meeting, a request for other provider bids was put in last and this week’s newspaper and depending on the results of this bid request, a final vote on hiring a medical screening service for the jail (ACH or otherwise) will be taken at the July meeting.

Cains said a meeting with the Mercy/Turner hospital resulted in the hospital saying it already gives Franklin County a discounted rate, so they could not offer a deeper discount. Inquiries for quotes from other care providers had not been returned, added Jail Administrator, Janice King, as larger companies were not interested in doing business with such a small county.

Architectural plans for the Charleston court house gazebo are complete and have been sent to the Historic Preservation Commission for final approval, said Powell, adding that as soon as she hears back from them, she will move on with bids.

No action was taken on forming a “long range planning committee” or including Justices in next year’s budget preparation, but further discussion is likely as several Justices expressed a renewed interest in the county’s budgeting process.