As costs grow, county departments told to cut requests

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Each of Warren County’s 45 departments, organizations and other entities must cut budget requests by 10 percent to meet funding goals for 2009-10, officials said Monday.

The insistence that everyone trim, however, is being countered by increasing demand — including funds for the Warren County Sheriff’s Department, which Sheriff Martin Pace said will rise 10 to 15 percent.

While requests to fund the department’s patrol, investigative and clerical functions are down about $30,000 from this year’s budget, more money is needed to fund and staff the jail and purchase more vehicles — not for this year, but for years to come, Pace indicated to supervisors as they prepared their spending plan and tax levy for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

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“On the jail side, it’s just the housing,” Pace said. “We have to either find a place to put these people or quit putting people in jail. The (judicial) system isn’t moving any slower. We have more people being put into the system.”

Five vehicles and at least three more jail staffers are needed to bring each up to needed standards, according to budget requests. A study by a Colorado-based consultant on the size, location and features of a new jail will continue at least through this calendar year. Pace and Undersheriff Jeff Riggs mentioned several times Monday in the meeting with supervisors that the study is likely to recommend more staffing.

“There is no way to cut 10 percent (from the jail budget),” Riggs said, offering costs for utilities and the prisoner food contract — projected for the coming year at $92,000 and $200,000, respectively — as examples of “big line items.”

“We should be increasing staff to prepare for the new facility,” Riggs said.

Warren County Jail’s 128 beds are full nearly all the time with pretrial detainees, which has led to most prisoners held by the City of Vicksburg to be held in Issaquena County. The jail lost its certification to hold state prisoners last year due to the “dilapidated condition” of the century-old facility at Cherry and Grove streets, Pace said, adding none has been held there in several years as a practical matter. Pace said 117 were held in jail Monday.

The additional cars would cost $105,000 and would add to a fleet of 37 used in patrol, traffic, investigations, court services and administrative areas with a current average age of two to four years old. The total does not include two trucks used to pull rescue boats used for emergencies on the water and two vans used for prisoner transfers of four or more. Patrol cars are typically replaced or declared surplus at about 120,000 miles. About 60,000 miles is put on the average patrol vehicle in a year, Pace said.

Vehicles for law enforcement are purchased for set prices via state contract. Routine oil changes are done via the Fuelman program at local outlets and higher-cost maintenance is handled through the Purchasing Department. Vehicle repair costs have run about $85,000 this year and are expected to equal $80,000 next year.

A delay in adding more this year may hurt the department after 2010 because of quickly escalating wear and tear and could prompt replacements to 50 percent of the department’s fleet.

“I think we can pull it off this year, but we will be dramatically down on vehicle replacement,” Pace said, adding mileage will add up quickly if no replacements are purchased by 2010-11. “Vehicles that would have been two years old are now going to be four years old,” Pace said.

Combined, the sheriff’s department and jail have requested $5,048,447 for 2009-10, about $120,000 more than supervisors OK’d for 2008-09. Among $177,243 in additional items requested for the jail are a diesel generator and a multi-floor intercom system.

Helping supervisors are property valuations, which are up this year with new taxable properties added to rolls. But cash balances were pegged at $2.1 million this year versus $4 million four years ago. Between $1.5 million and $1.8 million needs to be cut this year for reserves to reach $4 million in five years, County Administrator John Smith said.

Supervisors plan to continue budget discussions today.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at