Commissioners approve preliminary budget

Sharna Johnson

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, commissioners approved a $12.1 million preliminary budget for Curry County despite concerns over the jail’s out-of-county housing costs, commissioner expense budgets and oversight of capital outlay purchases.

The final budget has to be approved and submitted to the state by the end of July.

During a presentation of the budget, County Manager Lance Pyle told commissioners he ordered jail Administrator Keith Norwood to do a financial analysis of the jail and has budgeted less than half what Norwood requested for out-of-county inmate housing costs.

Norwood requested a budget of $800,000 to house inmates out of county, Pyle said, but was only granted $376,000 in the preliminary budget.

“We (Norwood and I) discussed his management philosophy,” Pyle said. “As he’s stated several times, if inmates misbehave, he sends them out.”

By the end of this budget year in June, Pyle said out-of-county costs are expected to be around $800,000 with Norwood requesting the same for next year.

The amount is nearly double what was budgeted this year. Out-of-county costs were $430,000 in the 2009-2010 budget year.

Pyle told commissioners he has instructed Norwood to evaluate the cost of sending the bulk of the population out of county and using the jail for only booking, release and housing of inmates who have court appointments.

Pyle said he hopes to have that study back in time for approval of the final budget in July.

He said he has also instructed Norwood to develop a policy of when and for what reasons an inmate will be sent out of county.

Norwood told commissioners he sends inmates out of county in order to keep control of the jail, reduce liability and to make a facility work that doesn’t offer the correct classification options for aggressive or vulnerable inmates.

“We have a lot of people who are out of county who just can’t make it in jail,” he said.

He said if the commission limits his ability to send inmates out of county they will render him ineffective.

“If you take that management tool away, then we’ve lost it. I have to have that tool in order to manage effectively,” he said.

“The only (other) thing we can do is keep them (locally) but if we keep them, we’re going to go right back where we were.”

Norwood said as of Tuesday there were about 30 inmates being housed out of county, with nearly 60 housed out of county last month.

Pyle pointed out to commissioners that even with the low population the jail’s staff levels have remained the same and if the population is reduced, staffing levels need to be examined.

There are 71 detention officers budgeted to supervise a population of 264 inmates.

As of May 17, Norwood said he had 236 inmates on the books with only 175 — or 66 percent of capacity — housed in the facility .

The remainder were either out of county, on furlough or on ankle bracelet release.

Commissioner Wendell Bostwick questioned Norwood on why his overtime budget has continued though he has reduced jail population.

“Last year we hired eight new employees … our overtime budgeted is still way up there,” Bostwick said.

Norwood said he still has overtime because his staff numbers fluctuate and he has to be able to cover employees who are sick or off work.

When Chairman Caleb Chandler asked Norwood if he would still need the same amount of staff if inmate numbers dropped, Norwood said he will because the inmate numbers fluctuate and he has to have enough personnel.

The vote took place during a more than six hour meeting in the North Annex of the Clovis-Carver Library.

The jail wasn’t the only point of friction in the budget.

Commissioner Frank Blackburn voiced disagreement with a $25,100 expense budget to cover travel and costs for commissioners.

“We are spending too much money and I’m not hearing any reports on where it’s spent,” he said.

Since 2008, the commission travel budget has grown from $5,216.

Bostwick disagreed and said travel to meetings is critical to lobbying for money and resources.

“I think we have made reports. If you don’t invest the time, you don’t get the money,” he said.

Chandler too supported travel by commissioners and their involvement in meetings and networking for the county.

“There’s been reports (on travel). We all have an option on what we do,” he said. “I think you reap what you sow.”

Blackburn made a motion to reduce the budget to $18,000 and require oversight of what the money is spent on.

The motion was defeated in a 2-2 tie vote with Blackburn and Commissioner Bobby Sandoval voting in favor of the restriction and Chandler and Bostwick voting against.

Commissioner Dan Stoddard was absent.

A later motion by Bostwick to have final approval on the purchase of budgeted capital outlay items was also defeated.

Bostwick said even though the commission was approving expenditure requests and putting money for items in department budgets, he wanted them to come back before the commission before they made their purchases.

“Because I’m ultimately responsible for the checkbook, I want to know what it’s being spent on,” Bostwick said.

The motion met with resistance from Sheriff Matt Murray.

“Are you going to tell me what kind of vehicle I’m purchasing? Because then there’s liability on (this commission),” he said. “If I go to buy a police package and I’m denied, then you’re liable.”

Sandoval sided with the Murray and said he feels department heads and elected officials should be trusted to manage their own expenditures.

“I think we need to give them the responsibility to do their job. That comes with the authority of their job,” he said. “I don’t want to micro-manage what kind of car the sheriff buys … You can buy whatever you want and if you screw it up I’ll chew your butt later.”

“I don’t want to screw up, I want what’s right for the department,” Murray responded.

Bostwick’s motion was defeated 3-1 with his being the only vote in favor.

Commissioners also approved $257,000 for the courthouse security budget to fund an April 19 plan to provide an additional five personnel toward securing building entrances.

While the budget was included, commissioners approved a motion from Bostwick that the security plan not be implemented until the option of using an automated security system is evaluated.

Murray reminded commissioners that under the original plan he was to implement the security measures in July.

“I will not be responsible (for securing two doors by July 1),” he said.

Commissioners released Murray from the implementation deadline until a decision is made.

During a Tuesday Curry County Commission meeting in the North Annex of the Clovis-Carver Library, among other business, commissioners:

• Approved a letter be sent to the State Forestry Resource Protection bureau chief expressing dissatisfaction with the way an April 17 fire was handled. “I was quite concerned … we asked for support (around noon) and about 6 p.m. they showed up with two shovels and a water pack,” Commissioner Wendell Bostwick said. “We all pay taxes into that service and I think the residents of Curry County deserve better than they got.”

• Voted unanimously to approve a resolution in support of an affordable housing plan by the city of Clovis after hearing from both sides of the issue.

• Approved a proclamation to restrict the sale of use and fireworks in the unincorporated areas of the county. Under the proclamation, any fireworks subject to ban by state statute are prohibited due to fire risks.

Statute allows ban of missile-type rockets, helicopters, aerial spinners, stick-type rockets and ground audible devices as well as restriction of the use of other firework types to paved areas. The ban must be renewed every 30 days and will be revisited in mid-July.

“I think you’d have to be crazy not to say we’re in a fire emergency,” said fireworks vendor Katherine Hamilton. Hamilton said her company’s focus will be on safety this year.