LOWVILLE — A controversy emerged at a Lewis County legislative committee meeting on Tuesday evening when Sheriff Michael Carpinelli made an unscheduled appearance to protest oversight of his spending — which has outpaced, and in some cases surpassed, the amounts allocated for the year.
Sheriff Carpinelli approached the committee to ask if the board stands behind the statement made in a letter from County Manager Ryan Piche informing him that he will not be able to purchase items that fall in the discretionary spending category of his budget until it’s clear he won’t need that money to cover overtime through the end of the year.
The sheriff read from the letter, which said it was meant to “make crystal clear that the board of legislators does not allocate additional funds at the year end to cover these (budget) gaps.”
He asked the General Services Committee, “Is that how you feel?”
With about half of the fiscal year completed, Mr. Piche said the Sheriff’s Department has used 81 percent of the funds budgeted for overtime pay for patrol deputies, or $32,385 of the $40,000 budgeted, and 210 percent of the overtime allocated for corrections officers at the county jail, $52,641 of the $25,000 budgeted.
A discussion ensued in which committee members and Mr. Piche said that because the Sheriff’s Department significantly overspent its budget last year, they could see things heading in the same direction and wanted to ensure they did not have to find money to compensate again.
Mr. Carpinelli was told he would have to find the money in his overall budget to cover overtime for the rest of the year.
“I can’t find it in my budget. There’s nothing there,” Mr. Carpinelli said, “For the past eight years of being sheriff, I’ve been kept to a minimal budget. I know some of you are going to disagree with that because some of you fail to listen and understand what it takes to run a secure facility in a professional manner — what it takes to run a safe community in Lewis County.”
The amount Mr. Carpinelli had first requested in the budgeting process for 2019, $3,239,818, had included an increase of nearly 10 percent over the 2018 budget. He said that if he had been granted the full amount, officials wouldn’t be going over budget on overtime.
“A 9.7 percent increase in a 2 percent tax cap environment is just not feasible,” Mr. Piche said.
The Sheriff’s Office was given a 7.5 percent increase in 2019 over the 2018 budget, from $4.9 million to $5.3 million, a larger bump than any other department, Mr. Piche said.
Although the sheriff’s budget was $177,914 less than he requested for the year, the amount he had budgeted for patrol overtime, $40,000, was not diminished, according to the 2019 budget document.
There was a drop from about $50,000 for the jail guard overtime line to $25,000; however, Mr. Piche said four guard positions were added into the budget, which should have cut the overtime hours needed.
Sheriff Carpinelli said the money has already been allocated for his discretionary spending account, and as an elected official, he should be able to use it as he sees fit.
“Yes, it’s been approved, but if you’re going over in other parts of your budget, that money has to come from somewhere,” said committee member Thomas Osborne, the District 9 legislator. “So hold off on buying anything unless it’s absolutely necessary. I don’t want to micromanage anybody. If there’s still money in the budget at the end, go ahead and get what you wanted, no questions asked.”
Other committee members agreed: the full $3.08 million budget has been allocated for the sheriff to manage and use as he sees fit, but when it’s gone, it’s gone, they said.
Last year, the Sheriff’s Office was over budget by about $175,000, not including expenses that couldn’t have been foreseen, for example medical evacuation and other medical costs for prisoners, according to Mr. Piche.
No clear information has been provided as to why so much overtime has been needed so far this year and that information has not yet been officially requested of the sheriff by the board. Committee members said they hope the sheriff will understand why they’ve felt the need to take action and curtail unnecessary spending: they don’t want a repeat of last year.
“We want to work with him,” said committee Chairman Jerry King, District 10 legislator. “I just hope he finds a way to stay in his budget because we just can’t afford these overruns.”