FORT WAYNE — About 90 Allen County Sheriff’s Department employees attended Thursday’s county budget appeals, silently showing support for Sheriff Ken Fries, who received more than $800,000 in additional funding.
Several appeals were granted after Auditor Tera Klutz announced the county would be receiving an unexpected $1 million in tax money.
The county will receive about $800,000 more in county income taxes and $238,000 more in county economic development income taxes than were originally estimated in the 2013 budget, Klutz said.
During last week’s meeting, the County Council issued a list of suggested cuts to the sheriff’s budget, including reducing the number of sworn officers, the inmate population and the number of cars, and using civilians as bailiffs, who could also serve civil documents to the public instead of officers.
Council President Larry Brown argued the council never said it would consider reducing the number of sworn officers, but in a memo presented to Fries, that option was first on the list.
Fries’ original appeal was $1.6 million, but he managed to pare it down to $827,007 by making several cuts, including eliminating the inmate GED program ($11,300) and the officer’s education fund ($36,000). He also withdrew a request for $400,000 for new squad cars and cut officers’ clothing allowances in half, saving $86,000.
The education fund provides a bonus to officers who earn bachelor’s or associate degrees.
Although he was pleased his appeal was granted, the cuts troubled him, Fries said.
“We have a great group of employees, and these cuts will directly affect them,” Fries said.
Included in the appeal was $400,000 for increased medical costs for inmates.
Fries said last week he intended to stop paying for inmates with pre-existing conditions, but after meeting with an attorney, has decided his only option is to continue paying the bills until Indiana lawmakers change state laws.
Before state legislation was passed in 2009, the county did not have to pay medical expenses for illnesses or conditions that were considered pre-existing. The bulk of inmates’ health issues and the financial shortfall his department has experienced every year since the law was passed are largely due to prisoners’ pre-existing conditions, Fries said.
Fries is working with the Indiana Sheriff’s Association and area lawmakers to have the law changed during the next legislative session.
“We would still treat inmates when they needed medical attention, but we would not be responsible for the costs,” Fries said, adding that hospitals “may not like it.”
Councilman Paul Moss, R-at large, abstained from voting on the sheriff’s appeal, drawing smiles and a few chuckles.
In June, Moss was pulled over by an Allen County sheriff’s officer. He refused a portable breath test and then called Fries. Ultimately, Moss was allowed to get a ride home, and no charges were filed. The Allen County Ethics Commission is investigating the case.
In addition to granting the sheriff’s appeal for $827,007, other appeals were granted for the county commissioners, $54,731; Homeland Security, $6,659; and coroner, $24,506.
Appeals from the Consolidated Communications Partnership (911 call center) for $591,196 and the Parks and Recreation Department for $8,436 were denied.
Council members reasoned that Parks and Recreation could use $499,000 in its user fee account.
The council denied the Consolidated Communications Partnership’s appeal, opting instead to wait for more information. It is unknown how much the county will receive next year in 911 fees or how much the new phone system or radio towers for the 911 call center will cost. Those costs comprised most of the appeal.
The building department and prosecutor’s office withdrew their appeals for $131,963 and $89,390, respectively.
Prosecutor Karen Richards withdrew her appeal last week, warning council members that she had already made many cuts and if she fell short trying to reduce costs even further, she would be forced to return and ask for more money.
Council members agreed to set aside any remaining income and economic development income tax money for Richards and the building department.