Leader Blues

Friday, December 01, 2006

TOP STORY >>Spending priorities proposed by justice

IN SHORT: Pulaski County JPs hope to see more than 1,100 jail beds if funds are available.

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Area mayors have said that they would again chip in to keep 80 additional Pulaski County Detention Center beds available, at least through June, according to JP Bob Johnson, head of the county budget committee, but until they have firm commitments, the budget will only reflect the 800 beds to which the county itself is committed.

Johnson said that Sheriff-elect Doc Holladay had participated in preparation of the budgets for the jail and sheriff’s office.
Johnson said the budget his committee would recommend at the Dec. 19 quorum court meeting had no significant departures from last year’s budget.

According to Johnson, the jail budget would again be about $19 million to $20 million and the committee and the quorum court were looking for money to reopen the 250-bed work-release center, but “I don’t know where the money is coming from.”

Otherwise, county departments have submitted budgets equal to or less than last year’s, Johnson said. He had high praise for the department heads who work to keep expenses down.

“Our goal was to spend less in all departments,” he said. “We’ve come pretty close.
“All department heads have been very frugal and have spent less than allocated.”

With acting comptroller Tim Scott anticipating 2007 revenues of about $57 million, the budget committee will finalize its numbers, then recommend employees’ raises for the first time in several years when the quorumcourt considers the budget at its December meeting, Johnson said.

But the county will hold the line on hiring additional employees, Johnson said, and that’s created a bit of a flap in the case of two juvenile services employees partially funded in the past by a grant.

Johnson said the grant had expired and Judge Rita Gruber had asked the county to pick up the slack for the first few months of 2007 until the grant could be reinstated. That is the recommendation of the budget committee, he said.
“We understand the importance of the juvenile services program,” Johnson said. Otherwise, “we could have had to fire those employees January 1.”

Johnson said the employee raises were particularly important because health care co-payments were going up.
“We’ve tentatively approved all the budgets,” Johnson said.

By state law, counties may only budget 90 percent of anticipated revenues, so the 2007 budget will be about $52 million, Johnson said.

The county also will carry over about $5 million from last year’s budget, which will be used on one-time capital expenses, Johnson said, such as a new roof for the County Administration Building and new digital sound and recording equipment for the courts.