Shortage of funds for sheriff’s department prompts commission to schedule work session

Published 2:58 pm Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Commissioners voted on Monday to fund the next pay period for employees at the Chilton County Jail due to a shortage of funds in the sheriff’s budget.

Chilton County Sheriff John Shearon spoke to commissioners about the jail portion of the budget with most of the money almost “depleted.”

“We did everything we could in cutting funds, but the money is just not there,” Shearon said.

The sheriff’s budget is split into two sections: a jail budget and the sheriff’s department budget.

Shearon said there is minimum staffing at the jail with five employees manning roughly 200 inmates, and there are several pay periods left before the next fiscal year begins.

“We knew coming in that we would be short on funds,” Shearon said. “We have been on emergency spending since Jan. 20, but it is harder to make cuts on the jail side.”

The budget for Fiscal Year 2014-2015 was presented to commissioners in 2014 by former sheriff Kevin Davis.

Commissioner Shannon Welch said he thought it was worth the commissioners’ time to sit down with Shearon and deputy chief Gerald Mims and work out budgeting issues for the 2015-2016 Fiscal Year.

Commissioner Joseph Parnell said he didn’t know if there were any suggestions other than bailing out the sheriff’s department.

“We bailed the previous sheriff out year after year, which makes me think we are underfunding the sheriff’s department,” Parnell said. “You have five people on duty with over 200 employees at any given time, and that is a lot of liability for the county. We could ask him to cut people, but is that the right thing to do from a liability standpoint? We have had two different sheriffs with the same outcome.”

County administrator Connie Powell told commissioners that as of the meeting on Monday, the salary portion in the jail budget was in the “negative.”

Commission Chairman Allen Caton said he would like for the commission to sit down and talk with the sheriff, but in the meantime the commission could provide the funds for the next pay period for employees at the jail, until a solution could be worked out.

“We need to figure something out,” Caton said.

Shearon told commissioners that case loads within the sheriff’s department have tripled, and he currently has three investigators working over 200 cases each.

Shearon said other ways his department has been working to reduce funds is cutting down overtime for employees, and purchasing supplies for the jail from the discretionary funds.

“We have to look at the jail as a restaurant, a hotel and a hospital,” Mims said. “You have to keep it clean at all times. If you have a staph infection that breaks out, or lice, it is bad for everyone.”

Commissioners unanimously voted to schedule a work session for July 20 at 3 p.m. at the Chilton County Courthouse to discuss the budget concerns with the sheriff.

For more from Monday’s meeting, check a future edition of The Clanton Advertiser.