Jail tops county departments in budget growth

Sharna Johnson

The jail tops other Curry County departments in budget growth with the county commission leading the way for growth of expense budgets.

In the last five years — with a 33 percent increase — the jail has the largest growing budget among Curry County departments.

With a growth rate of a little more than 8 percent a year, the jail’s budget for fiscal year 2012 is more than $1 million greater than it was in 2008, according to Finance Manager Mark Lansford.

Commissioners approved a $12.1 million preliminary budget for the county May 24. Slightly higher than the $11.7 million budget for last year, the final budget has to be approved and submitted to the state by the end of July.

Among expense budgets, the commission’s $25,150 travel and per diem budget for 2012 has increased five times its 2008 budget of $5,000 shared among five commissioners.

The county manager’s $5,000 expense account has increased around $3,300 in the same five year period, according to county documents.

County Manager Lance Pyle said the $2,200 expense account five years ago that is reflected in the county budget is what was actually spent that year, not what was budgeted for that year. He said he is given a $5,000 expense account but has only spent about $900 so far this year.

Commissioner Bobby Sandoval said he is not surprised at the growth of the jail’s budget, which he thinks comes with the territory of running a detention center.

“We’ve had growth in the county (and) with crime getting worse, the types of crime seem to be getting worse. It seems like things are just all trending up,” he said.

“Everything costs a lot more than what we’re used to. I wish that our gross receipts would go up accordingly.”

Sandoval said he does, however, take issue with the increase to the commission’s expense budget.

While he believes there are times that travel is necessary for commissioners to attend meetings and network for money for the county, he said he also believes the commission should be conservative. For instance he said the commission should heavily evaluate the need to attend each event or meeting that requires travel and send one or two commissioners to meetings instead of all of them.

“My personal thoughts are the commission should have tightened their belts like we told department heads and public officials to,” he said.

“It’s hard to ask your employees to tighten up and then we don’t lead by example.”

Aside from the county manager, no other employees have expense accounts and only a select few, about 60 employees, are given purchasing cards, Lansford said. The county went to the card system about two years ago.

Cards are authorized for justified expenditures only, he said, such as supplies, repairs, utilities, travel and capital purchases.

Lansford said each purchase is reviewed by the purchaser, their supervisor, the accounting department and then the bill is sent to the commission for approval of itemized expenses.

“We’re watching it pretty close. I think the internal controls that we have are pretty good,” he said.

The county also, about three years ago, switched to a system of paying a twice-monthly $16 stipend for cell phones rather than issuing phones to employees. Lansford said there are about a dozen employees who receive stipends, and all have after-hours obligations through their jobs where they are expected to be on call.

The decision to go to stipends came from IRS regulations and rules that save the county time and paper work in accounting.

“We could still be paying the cell phone bills, (it would involve) the employees accounting for personal calls and reimbursing the county and it’s a lot of paperwork. (Using stipends), it’s actually a savings to the taxpayer,” he said.

Overall, Sandoval said he believes the county is responsible with its budgets and this year scrutinized it closer than in prior years, holding a lengthy budget meeting before taking a vote.

“I think we have a very conservative budget. I think that we try to be as conscientious as we can, things just cost more,” he said.