Sheriff prepares for lean budget

Published 10:52 pm Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Editor’s Note: The following is the first in a series of stories looking at the financial state of the Chilton County Commission and county departments.

Chilton County Sheriff Kevin Davis has had to cut more than $80,000 from the Sheriff’s Department budget and about $63,000 from the jail budget in order to meet mandatory 8-percent cuts for the current fiscal year.

The majority of those cuts were made from the gasoline fund (about $81,000), overtime ($27,000) and deputy uniforms ($6,000). The rest were spread out over many different line items such as office supplies, tires and training.

“The sheriff’s conference was last week, and I didn’t go,” Davis said.

Tuesday, the sheriff submitted his proposed budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, which is comparable to this year’s.

The Sheriff’s Department budget for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2009 was $1,903,017.65. The jail budget was $1,539,475.08. Together, the two budgets totaled $3.4 million.

The county’s overall budget for 2008-2009 totaled $17 million. But a projected $1.2 million revenue shortfall in March forced the commission to mandate the across-the-board reductions.

“All departments were already operating on a tight budget,” Davis said. “I looked at the budget and saw we had budgeted $200,000 for gasoline and fuel, but because of gas prices coming down we were able to take most of our cuts out of gas.”

Had it not been for reduced fuel costs, however, the department would likely have had to cut personnel, he added.

Overtime was the other major area for cuts. While this was done with some success, Davis said there is no way to avoid all overtime in emergency service work.

“My division supervisors have done an outstanding job on cutting back as much overtime as they can,” he said. “For eight hours out of every day, there are only two sheriff’s deputies out in the county. That can’t be cut. It’s not safe to have a deputy sheriff out by himself.”

At the next commission meeting, Davis plans to move some money from training to health insurance. This past year, the Sheriff’s Department was budgeted $5,000 for training but spent only $525, he said.

This year, the sheriff will opt to attend the winter sheriff’s conference, which is held within driving distance and will not require an overnight stay.

“There are a lot of free or very reasonable classes taught in the Montgomery area,” he said. “We’re able, for the most part, to send people to classes they can drive to. We’re doing that this year more than ever.”

As the demands of a growing county continue to outpace department budgets and manpower, Davis said the commission needs to make sure it spends money wisely.

“We as a county have got to understand where our priorities are,” he said. “Law enforcement, fire and rescue are essential services. We can do without a paved road if we have to, but we can’t do without sheriff’s deputies answering 911 calls.”