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Questions still surround budget

By Staff
Jonathan Willis
Just a few days into the county's new fiscal year, questions still surround the amount of money allocated to the sheriff's office and jail.
More importantly, questions are being asked as to what that money can be used for. Sheriff Larry Plott said that he would be forced to cut one patrol officer in the new budget year.
County officials, however, argue that Plott is getting more money for his department than at any other time.
A chart released during the county commission work session this week compares the amount of money budgeted to the office to that given to the department some 25 years ago.
"Instead of the budget being cut, it's actually up a little from 2007-2008," Commissioner Rayburn Massey said.
According to documents released at the work session, the sheriff's office received about $25,000 more in the 2008-2009 budget than from the previous year. The jail was budgeted more than $130,000 more in the new budget. Those numbers do not include the bond payments for the jail, which is $511,845.75.
Massey said that 25 years ago, the sheriff's fund totaled about 18 percent of the county's overall budget. The jail operation accounted for 3 percent.
In this year's budget, the sheriff's office receives 19 percent and the jail accounts for another 35 percent.
"At some point in time you can't put anymore money into that," Massey said. "You've got to say enough is enough. More than half of the county budget is enough."
Plott said last week that a deputy would be taken off the streets because of line items in the new budget, but he said comparisons made to 25 years ago are not fair.
"It was a different time," he said. "There are new regulations and laws. Drugs were not a problem then like it is now. It was a totally different environment."
Plott said the average portion of a budget allocated to the sheriff's department in Alabama is near 50 percent.
Plott also pointed out the need for the county's new jail, agreeing with Massey that it was something that had to be built.
"If the federal government had came in it would have bankrupt the county," Plott said.
"My job is to fight for my department and make sure we can provide service to the people."
Massey said the sheriff does a good job of working for his department, but it is not the commission's decision on how the money is spent.
He pointed to a 2000 attorney general's opinion that the commission can only allocate the money to the sheriff, but they cannot dictate how it's spent.
"He can use that money for his department where he wants," Massey said. "It's not the commission's decision to cut a patrol officer."
Massey said that when broken down, the sheriff has $8,367.03 per day to use on the jail and his office.
"He should be able to provide services to the county for that."
Budget comparisons for sheriff's office and jail:
Total sheriff's budget
2007-2008 – $1,037,291.48
2008-2009 – $1,062,990.83
Total jail budget
2007-2008 – $1,347,723.93
2008-2009 – $1,479,131.01
* Does not include $511,845.75 bond payment.