By Brad Bowman
Despite differing opinions on the Henry County Sheriff’s Budget, fiscal court received excess fees over the budgeted amount from the sheriff’s office in addition to excess fees from the Henry County Clerk in February’s meeting.
Henry County Clerk Juanita Lashley’s office reported $3,176,394.57 total generated revenue for 2013 and presented the court with $96,846.14 in excess fees.
The sheriff’s office budgeted $25,575.11 for 2013 excess fees and has collected to date $680,500.35 in receipts, turning in $44,370.55 in excess fees. The office collected $18,795.44 more than the budgeted amount Cravens said was asked for by fiscal court.
Magistrate David Brown of District 3 asked Cravens where the extra money in receipts came from when the office had budgeted only $655,831.93 in receipts —a difference of $24,6868.
“We budgeted a lower receipts so we would be more conservative,” Cravens said. “There was an article in the paper (Magistrate Nick Hawkins’ January guest column) that said I came to fiscal court to get $10,000 to hire my son. That was incorrect information.”
Cravens explained to Brown that fiscal court allowed the sheriff’s office to escrow money in a line item of the court’s budget for $10,000. When he wanted to move line items around for his budget, he wasn’t allowed to do that and used $5,500 of escrow funds in his budget.
“That is why we came up with $44,370 in excess fees, because we were conservative. I wanted to bank some of that and keep it.” Cravens said. “The question that I have about that article in the paper: (It) said I had overspent my salary by $100,000 in mid-year. Fiscal court had agreed to carry our payroll when our revenues are low, and we pay that once we start collecting taxes. But the article in the paper said we overspent $100,000. I want to know if fiscal court is going to continue to carry us during that time period, like it does for the county attorney’s office, or am I going to have to seek more money from another entity.”
Cravens said he wished the county would support the office so he wouldn’t have to pay interest with another entity.
“I think the county should continue to support it (sheriff’s payroll) without making it a big issue when they got an upwards of $2 million in surplus.” Cravens said. “Either way I am fine with it. I just want to know.”
Judge-Executive John Logan Brent asked for clarification on the article. Brent wanted to know if it stated the sheriff was short or behind the $100,000. Cravens said it stated that he had overspent it.
“Well, that’s not accurate,” Brent said. “You were behind eight payrolls, which equal approximately $100,000. I don’t know that fiscal court ever outright said, ‘we are going to carry you for so many payrolls.’ I don’t know that we’ve ever put an exact number on it or not.”
Cravens emphasized the $10,000 escrow line item allowed for the sheriff’s office to be conservative and depend on the money if the department needed it. Magistrate Scott Bates of District 1 agreed that payroll should be kept up and keep the sheriff’s office from paying interest.
“This $44,000 you should be commended on that,” Brent said. “That’s a strong number. On the payroll, I can tell you what I think is fair. What I think is fair, is June 30 you need to be caught up or about caught. Because that is when our year (fiscal) ends.”
The revenue period for the sheriff’s office ends in April, Cravens emphasized. He reiterated he needed an answer. He didn’t think he would have funds to cover payroll in May and June.
“I think, Danny the initial cause for concern was in 2012 when you were $100,00 behind in reimbursing the county for payroll costs,” Magistrate Nick Hawins of District 4 said. “You called before the court meeting and said that you didn’t really think you would have enough money to pay us back.”
Hawkins explained that he met with the sheriff, went through his budget and recommended Cravens be allowed to borrow money to pay out his employees for the rest of the year.
“That’s when the cause for concern started,” Hawkins said. “It’s a legitimate cause.”
Cravens didn’t recall the meeting. Hawkins affirmed that it was on the record, the two should celebrate their successes and not make a spectacle of the budget. Cravens reiterated that he wasn’t attempting to make a spectacle of the subject, but needed to know what to do about the sheriff’s office funding so there will be no surprises.
Hawkins said that through quarterly meetings, the budget committee could help the sheriff’s office stay on course. Magistrate Scott Bates agreed the committee could help ensure halfway through the year, the sheriff will have spent only half of the budgeted amount.
“Well, I had asked that Nick be removed from my budget committee. I don’t trust him and I will be glad to meet with any other member,” Cravens said.
“Danny, I have been chairman of your budget committee for the eight years you have been in office and for seven of those eight years you have had a budget increase,” Hawkins said. “There was one year we didn’t agree.”
Brent and Bates concluded the budget committee would report to fiscal court with progress on the sheriff’s budget and payroll by April.
It was not addressed whether Hawkins would still be chairman on the budget committee.