County budget sent back to make room for jail officers

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Curry County commissioners told County Manager Lance Pyle to reconfigure his proposed preliminary budget Tuesday and come back with the money to hire 10 new detention officers at the jail.

Commissioners were expected to vote on both preliminary budget and jail issues at a meeting held at the Grady Senior Center.

They ended up tabling it all and scheduling a May 25 special meeting to reconsider.

The 3-2 vote to send Pyle’s budget back came after Commissioner Caleb Chandler pressed Pyle on several budget items.

Chandler said the budget proposal was padded with high estimates and could be shaved to accommodate $263,000 needed to create the new positions at the jail.

“Mr. Pyle’s a very innovative guy. I’ve seen him work on budgets,” Chandler said. “If he has to put ($263,000) in there, he can do it.”

Chandler also pointed out the budget only showed estimates for the coming fiscal year with no comparison figures. Chandler said he wants to see a budget with columns reflecting last year’s allowances and the actual costs.

Commissioners are required to submit a budget to the state Department of Finance and Administration by May 31.

Chairman Bobby Sandoval argued against adding positions at the jail.

Sandoval said the county is facing difficult times because of decreasing state money and the budget is already tight.

Sandoval also defended Pyle’s budget and said any more shaving or cuts would could put other departments at risk.

“If we take this out of the existing budget, we’re going to have to take it from somewhere else,” Sandoval said. “In good conscience I can’t vote for this … I may not be the brightest bulb in the room, but I can still add two and two.”

Sandoval said there was no need to table or reconfigure the preliminary budget because changes are expected before the final budget is due later this summer.

“The preliminary budget has always been a wild guess,” he said. “That’s what it is, a wild guess.”

Chandler disagreed, saying, “If it wasn’t important, we wouldn’t be doing it.”

Dan Stoddard, who supported the motion to reconfigure the budget, said the need for more detention officers was too critical to ignore.

“I feel like we’ve been doing (this) to the detention center for the last few years,” Stoddard said. “I don’t know what kind of a price tag we can put on not having any inmates escape.”

Stoddard’s comment sparked a retort from Sandoval, who said, “Sir, I don’t think that’s a fair question. We could put 100 (detention officers) there and have a murder tomorrow.”

Commissioner Frank Blackburn also voted against tabling the motions.

“If it’s on the agenda, I think we should vote for it. If it’s voted down, then we’ll have a special meeting,” he said.

Pyle told commissioners $140,000 in cuts was already made this year to cover a shortfall from lost state money. He said to reconfigure the budget to accommodate the positions could mean cutting money to nonprofit organizations or other departments.

“We only have so much money,” he said, explaining cash needs to be kept in reserves to pay for items and programs reimbursed later by grants.

Pyle also noted he had to plan for as of yet unknown increasing costs, such as insurance premiums.

Clerk Connie Jo Lyman pointed out $182,000 for a judicial complex and courthouse security assessment wasn’t budgeted, yet Pyle found a way to pay for it.

“We’ve done things all throughout the year that we didn’t budget,” Chandler said. “I think solving this is the single most important thing I’ve heard about from people out in the community.”

Finance Manager Mark Lansford acknowledged shifting is possible to fit the positions. Lansford defended Pyle’s budget proposal, explaining revenues have dropped because even though property taxes increased, less people are paying them.

“The pie is only so big,” he said.

In other business, commissioners:

• Heard a report from Catherine Roupe on the status of a Joint Land Use Study being conducted to evaluate Cannon Air Force Base’s effect on and the mutual needs of the base and local communities. She told commissioners there have been delays in partnership with Cannon and the study will be extended to Jan. 31.

• Heard a presentation of the Master Plan for the fairgrounds from David Forkner. Forkner said the plan, which will cost an estimated $7.5 to $8 million, can be broken into three phases and stretched out over time.

He said the study determined among other things, a new multipurpose building and pavilion are needed, clearer signage, horse stalls and hook-ups for recreational vehicles.