LOWVILLE — That Lewis County Manager and Budget Officer Ryan Piche sent an email to Sheriff Michael Carpinelli on June 17, refusing a purchase order request to curb spending to prevent his department from overspending its budget again this year, is one of the few facts on which the sheriff and the legislative board agree.
The intent and meaning of that letter, the circumstances surrounding both the budget and spending, and the best way forward, however, vary substantially and have created a controversy that took the form of dueling prepared statements on Tuesday afternoon.
The sheriff announced he would be suspending Parks and Recreational Services including ATV, boat and snowmobile patrols, as he had said he would do since the General Services Committee meeting on June 18.
Mr. Carpinelli also said that his office will not provide patrols at the Lewis County Fair next month or the extra patrols normally on duty Halloween night in order to do as he believes he was ordered by the legislature: cut overtime spending.
“The suspension is a direct result of the request of the Legislative Board to remain within our budget,” the release said before going on to refer to “budget cuts” as the cause.
The rebuttal statement from board Chairman Lawrence Dolhof reiterated, as Mr. Piche had said in the committee meeting, that the letter was sent to limit spending because with 81 percent of Mr. Carpinelli’s overtime budget for patrols spent and 210 percent of the overtime budget for jail personnel, without curtailing spending in other line items, the department would once again significantly overspend its budgeted amount.
“If spending continues at the current pace, the department will exceed their total budget by over $100,000,” Mr. Dolholf’s statement said.
Last year, the department came in about $175,000 over budget, not including costs that were beyond the sheriff’s control like medical treatments and evacuations.
Mr. Dolhof referred to the sheriff’s decision to stop recreation patrols as “disappointing” in the news release and as “vindictive” in a subsequent interview because nurturing tourism, specifically recreation, in the county has been a focus for the board.
The sheriff didn’t say in his announcement why he chose to suspend the recreation department, being that all of his funding requests for that patrol were granted in this year’s budget and, as Mr. Dolhof said in his news release, $57,500 is reimbursed by either state or county funds of the total $65,700 budget, leaving only $8,220 to offset overtime spending as the sheriff indicated was his intent.
Even basic budget numbers are not common ground between the two sides other than the $5.3 million allocated this year.
The sheriff said it is a 2.8 percent increase over last year’s budget of $5.2 million while Mr. Dolhof and Mr. Piche said it was a 6 percent increase from the $4.9 million 2018-19 budget for the Sheriff’s Department.
According to the 2019-20 budget document, it appears the discrepancy may be that Sheriff Carpinelli is using his actual spending from 2018, referred to as the revised budget, and the county is referencing the actual 2018 budget the sheriff’s department was allotted and overspent.
Staffing has been a point of contention for both sides for years and in 2017, an independent study was conducted by Bonadio & Co., Syracuse, as referenced by the sheriff during interviews as a justification for his spending.
The study found that the department was “staffed pretty lean,” with 14 road patrol officers, an investigator, 21 correction officers and 11 dispatchers.
Mr. Dolhof and Mr. Piche said 10 new positions have been added to the sheriff’s department since 2016, however, it is unclear how many of those were already in place before the study and neither side indicated exactly how many of each position there are now.
Both sides agree that four new correction officer positions were added this year; however, the sheriff said only one has been hired so far.
Both Mr. Piche and Mr. Dolhof said they were under the impression that at least three of the positions were filled.
“Year-over-year budget increases, along with overspending, is not a fiscally sustainable path for the county, and cannot be left unchallenged,” Mr. Dolhof’s release said, “The Board of Legislators expects each department to operate within their given budget; the Sheriff’s Office is no exception.”
Mr. Dolhof said the board wants to work with the sheriff to come to a resolution, but that the sheriff has not provided any documentation as to why so many overtime hours have been used.
“I’ve compromised for seven years. I’m not interested in compromising any more. I’m not compromising with safety,” Sheriff Carpinelli said, “I’ve been here 14 years in this county and I haven’t seen any change except for the Sheriff’s Department. We’re the only one that’s made a change in training and operations.”