Sheriff in budget crunch?
Cautioned by Summit County Auditor Blake Frazier not to make another employee full time at the Sheriff’s Office, County Commissioner Ken Woolstenhulme criticized Sheriff Dave Edmunds last week for spending too much money.
"If there’s one department that needs to be reined in, it’s Sheriff Edmunds," said Woolstenhulme during a work session Wednesday in Coalville.
Sheriff’s Office Capt. Dave Booth, earlier in the meeting requested commissioners make part-time secretary Kristy Marchant full time so she could qualify for benefits in December.
"It’s just not the way life is supposed to be," lamented Frazier to Woolstenhulme and Summit County Commissioner Sally Elliott. "If it’s already approved, it’s a null-and-void issue with the budget committee."
Newly re-elected Commissioner Bob Richer did not attend the meeting.
Frazier was upset with commissioners for considering approval of the personnel item while the county’s budget committee considers the request for 2007.
Budgets must be approved in December and with talks underway commissioners appear to be stepping on toes, Frazier said.
Booth, however, explained plenty of unused money earmarked for salaries at the Sheriff’s Office could be used to make Marchant full time Dec. 1.
"It’d only be (benefits) for about three weeks this year," Booth said.
The county, however, hasn’t granted Edmunds’ request to make Marchant full time in 2007, countered Frazier, who added that approving the benefits now "automatically approves" next year’s request.
"It’s an item that wasn’t budgeted and wasn’t run through the budget process for ’06," Frazier said.
The Sheriff’s Office may have money for salaries, but "[Edmunds] is over everywhere else," said Frazier, who is the county’s chief financial officer.
State law allows for Edmunds’ paycheck to be withheld "until it is all paid back," he added.
"Do they understand what the law is?" Woolstenhulme asked.
But the sheriff’s pay won’t need to be docked, countered Edmunds in a telephone interview Friday.
He added, "If the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t balance out in the end, they can withhold my paycheck it’s well within their rights."
"Are there specific budgets that aren’t doing real well right now? Yes," Edmunds said, adding that the Sheriff’s Office is comprised of nearly 15 "sub-budgets."
More calls from the Wasatch-Cache National Forest east of Kamas have patrol deputies operating in the red, the sheriff explained, calling the $12,000 the U.S. Forest Service provides the Sheriff’s Office each year "a drop in the bucket."
"We do our best to forecast the future needs, but the reality is, law enforcement is very unpredictable," Edmunds said. "We have to go up on the forest, we have to deal with all the general law enforcement issues up there, but guess what, we don’t get compensated for it."
Unless needed for emergencies, no more equipment will be purchased by the Sheriff’s Office in 2006, he said.
"All you do is take money from budgets that are in the black and move it around to cover the red," Edmunds said. "It all balances out in the end. So to say that the Sheriff’s Office budget is over, it’s somewhat disingenuous."
Denial would send message
Denying Edmunds’ request for a full-time employee could serve as "a good lesson" to other department heads considering requesting money that wasn’t budgeted properly, Woolstenhulme said.
"We’re trying to wash our hands of [the budget process]," Woolstenhulme said. "We’re putting the burden on the budget committee to enforce the way the budget ought to operate."
The decision on the sheriff’s request was delayed to Dec. 6.
"No decision has been made as to approve or not approve," Woolstenhulme said.
The new position is justified because the number of calls received by county dispatchers has increased 20 percent, Booth said, adding, "Typically we see about a 10 to 12 percent increase."
"We’ve had over 20 percent every year since 2002," Edmunds said. "We are in a period of unprecedented growth."
Increasing the budget roughly nine percent in 2007 would allow Edmunds to hire a full-time secretary, two new detectives and two lieutenants to oversee patrol.
The sheriff also wants money to promote several deputies to supervisors.
"No government official, including me, wants to be accused of spending the taxpayers’ money injudiciously," Edmunds said.
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Buses, trains and gondolas doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but they make up the transit alternatives for the mountain transportation system the Central Wasatch Commission is trying to create, mostly in the Cottonwood canyons.