LOWVILLE — The impasse between Lewis County Sheriff Michael Carpinelli and the county Board of Legislators regarding the current state of the Sheriff’s Department budget remains murky and the topic may come up at tonight’s county meeting.
Because the Sheriff’s Department overspent by over $170,000 last year, budget officer and County Manager Ryan Piche said he has been paying more attention to spending to avoid the problem this year.
Mr. Piche noticed last month that the overtime budget for deputy patrols is 81 percent depleted halfway through the year and the jail overtime budget is over by 210 percent.
Up to this point, Mr. Carpinelli has maintained that the overage was because he was not granted the full amount he requested for the 2019 budget.
The board and Mr. Piche have countered that the Sheriff’s Department payroll for full-time jail employees increased because of the addition of four full-time positions that previously had been part-time.
The approved 2019 budget was increased by about $220,000 from the 2018 budget to cover the four newly full-time positions.
The part-time officers were working full-time hours, Mr. Carpinelli said, explaining why the change didn’t reduce the need for more part-time employees or overtime.
The sheriff didn’t ask for part time employee payroll money with the $1.5 million full time position payroll budget he requested, but in the final budget the county added $20,000 for part timers.
According to Mr. Piche, the Sheriff’s Department had said during budget discussions at the end of last year the four full-time positions would make a cut in overtime manageable. As a result, $25,000 of the $40,000 requested for jail overtime was included in the 2019 budget.
“I think it’s human nature to say ‘If you give me this, I can do without that,’ but in reality, it may not be true,” said County Treasurer Patricia O’Brien.
The main point of contention for many legislators is that the sheriff has not offered any rationalization for the excess overtime.
Undersheriff Jason Mcintosh said, “I put that information in every week in the system. It’s right there if they want to see it, but they don’t even look.”
Mr. Mcintosh provided the Watertown Daily Times with a list of overtime hours and what caused them from December through June 21.
Of the 1,181 overtime hours, about 250 were due to transporting inmates to and from courts locally and in other counties, 236 hours of time-and-a-half went for covering sick leave, inmate hospital visits took about 143 hours and covering “constant watch” duties at the jail accounted for 144 hours.
Training, range practice and “sergeant meetings” accounted for 108 overtime hours combined.
“Budgeting can be a very complicated process and there are several expenses that are difficult to predict,” Mrs. O’Brien said.
Neither Mr. Piche nor Mrs. O’Brien have had access to the information Mr. Mcintosh was tracking in the system, but after following up with IT Department Director Adam Zehr, Mr. Piche said he was shown how to access the data.
The sheriff and undersheriff said payroll also increased because negotiations over pay raises were completed early this year and aren’t budgeted, but Mrs. O’Brien said she had built-in an amount estimated for raises into the sheriff’s budget because she knew it was coming and didn’t want the department to be caught unprepared.
She said she wasn’t sure if that was specifically pointed out to the sheriff as it would have only showed on budget worksheets as an unlabeled line item until an actual figure was reached.
The budget vs. spending controversy came to a head when Mr. Piche put a purchase order submitted by the sheriff on hold until later in the year when they could be reasonably certain Mr. Carpinelli had enough funds in the overall budget to cover the payroll and overtime costs.
Although the topic is not officially on the schedule for tonight’s Board of Legislators meeting at 5 p.m. in the legislative board room at the Lewis County Court House on State Street, it is likely to come up.