By Curt Yeomans
"Overspending" by the Clayton County Sheriff's Office is expected to make up more than one-quarter of the county's anticipated $8.4 million budget deficit at the end of fiscal year 2011, county officials have said.
Clayton County Finance Director Angela Jackson informed the Board of Commissioners of the projected deficit, during a commission retreat on Friday. She said lower-than-expected revenues created most of the anticipated deficit. But, she added that the Sheriff's Office is expected to make up a significant chunk of that shortfall -- about $2.4 million.
She said that office is expected to exceed its $32 million budget this year, partly because of overspending on overtime. She said the overspending is also the result of Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough agreeing to provide 15 school resource officers (SROs) to Clayton County Public Schools, after his department budget was set, without consulting the county's finance department.
"The sheriff is, at this time, exceeding his overtime," Jackson said. "He was given a budget of $2 million [for overtime]. At this point, he is at $2.3 [million]. In 2010, the sheriff was given new positions. That year, he also met his highest point for overtime, at $3.4 million.
"We reduced the budget," she said, "assuming that because of the new positions, he would spend less on overtime, but this just did not quite work out to be that way.
Right now, the sheriff's budget is expected, by the end of the year, at the current rate of spending, to be over budget by about $2.3-$2.4 million."
Sheriff's Office officials argued that the reason why they are going over their budget, is because the county is not adequately allocating enough money for the office to operate.
Chief Deputy Garland Watkins said commissioners need to be "realistic" about how much money they allow the office to have for overtime. He said the Sheriff's Office has not received a significant increase in staff size since 2000, while deputies have had to deal with a heavier workload. He said the office has exceeded its overtime budget every year since 2002.
"I just ask that you give us a budget that is something that we can really work with, a realistic budget," Watkins told commissioners. "Realistically, you know that we're going to go over budget ... just by the nature of what we do, and the services that we have for the citizens."
Watkins said 300 inmates at the Clayton County Jail have to sleep on cell floors, because one housing unit in the jail has been closed due to safety concerns because of understaffing at the facility. He said there are currently 1,900 inmates in the jail, compared to 1,100 inmates in 2002.
Watkins also said deputies have to provide security at the Harold R. Banke Justice Center, and in the county's drug, driving under the influence (DUI), probate, magistrate, juvenile, state and superior courts. On top of that, Kimbrough said his office is getting approximately 1,400 to 1,500 new warrants to serve, per month, from the county's courts.
Jackson said her office has tried to be fair when budgeting money for the Sheriff's Office, but she said the office has made changes to its operations, such as entering an SRO agreement with the school system without her knowledge.
"We don't know if you're going to take on additional duties that require additional staff," she told Watkins.
Kimbrough admitted his budget and staff are "out of whack," because of the SRO issue, but he said he entered into the agreement with Clayton County Schools last summer, because School System Superintendent Edmond Heatley asked him to do so. The SROs are assigned to the county's 15 middle schools, which previously had to share security officers when they were provided by the Clayton County Police Department.
"Are they drawing from our available personnel? Sure they are," Kimbrough said. "But, at the same time, I had to make a decision between honoring the commitment that was asked of me, requested of me, by our school district, and telling them, no, because the paperwork isn't moving -- and I chose, frankly, to protect our children."
Commission Vice Chairman Wole Ralph said the county previously only provided eight police officers to serve as middle school SROs, because officials knew it would be too costly to put an officer in every school. While the school system pays 80 percent of an SRO's salary, Ralph said the county is responsible for paying the remaining 20 percent.
He accused the Sheriff's Office of creating a funding hole by agreeing to provide SROs to the middle schools. "The reason why you had officers covering multiple middle schools is because we knew we couldn't afford it in the budget," Ralph said. "Well, then the Sheriff's Office goes out there, does it, and then doubles the number of officers [deputies]."
Ralph suggested that the school system should establish its own police department. "It's not as if the sheriff has to run, and step in there, because, otherwise, the children would be left unsafe," he said.
The school system is not likely in a position to create a law enforcement force, however, when it has already reached the maximum amount it can charge county residents in property taxes, and state funding has been cut each year, in recent years.
Heatley has already told members of the Clayton County Board of Education that additional cuts may be needed in fiscal year 2012.