Smith says he inherited $38,000 in unpaid bills

By ED HOWELL
Posted 3/26/19

Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith says he has been left with $38,000 in unpaid bills from the previous administration, which he said takes up more of the discretionary funds that he needs to take …

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Smith says he inherited $38,000 in unpaid bills

Posted

Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith says he has been left with $38,000 in unpaid bills from the previous administration, which he said takes up more of the discretionary funds that he needs to take action. 

"I'm a little upset about it," he said, after approaching the Daily Mountain Eagle to discuss the situation. 

Smith, who took office in January, was clearly unhappy last week when he revealed that he had just learned that day a $13,050 bill for an industrial clothes washer arrived, along with the unit. The unit, from a company he named as Service South Laundry Equipment Sales, was added to a prior identical unit in service at the jail.

"There's nothing wrong with (the previous unit). They just ordered a second one because it was taking too long to wash clothes," he said.

He said the new unit was ordered before he came into office, and did not know anything prior to last week about it being ordered. Sheriff's Officials found identical washers online for $1,800 and $1,900. 

Smith said the company will be called about the second washing machine. He said he will "tell them they can have it back, because I didn't authorize that. I didn't authorize that purchase."

He also said he was surprised recently with a $9,000 bill for black rubber gloves. Each box was costing $70, while Smith found the same gloves that cost $10 per box. "We boxed those gloves back up and mailed them back. I'm not paying those bills," he said. 

"Coming into office is already a challenge. It's now been seven or eight weeks now. We're making a lot of strides now, and it makes it very difficult when you make those improvements when you get blindsided with unpaid bills," he said. 

He said there may still be more orders since last summer - when he won the Republican nomination facing only independent opposition - that he doesn't know about at this point. "They keep trickling in," he said. 

The $38,000 in bills puts him in a bind this fiscal year because of a budget that he inherited early in the second quarter. "I inherited 4 percent overage on a budget from the first quarter that I didn't have anything to do with," he said. 

He thought he had been left in good shape with the discretionary budget, encouraging him to pay for improvements with the discretionary funds. That is now harder to do as he keeps finding unpaid bills arising, Smith said, saying it was "bad business practice" not to have already paid those bills. 

Smith said he was left no records to note those purchases. "There was no smooth transition. There was no transition, period, per se," he said. "It was like, 'Here is what the building looks like. Here are your keys.'

"I just want the citizens of Walker County to understand we are making a lot of positive strides. A lot of people think I am supposed to change 20 years of wrongdoing in one night, and that's not going to happen, especially when you continue to get blindsided by these type bills." 

Smith said as of last week he was trending at 4.96 percent over his budget. "We've cut the bleeding per se on the budget. We're managing our overtime better," he said. 

He said he had asked County Administrator Robbie Dickerson to cut off all purchase orders for office equipment. A couple of weeks ago he was given a list of items to purchase from  Viking Business Solutions, totaling $1,500. 

"I already know from my budget we've already used roughly 87 percent of our (office supply) budget," he said. "I went through that list. We already have all that stuff here. It's like, there's been no accountability of what you have and what you don't have. It's just not a good way to operate." 

Smith said as long as the department watches its spending, officials there have no reason why it cannot live off its annual budget or stick close to it.

He said the department is running high on oils, oil changes and lubricants, using up 65 percent of that budget. "We should be at 46 or 47 percent right now," he said. The department is trending 78 percent on tires and tubes, he said, and repairs and maintenance of vehicles has used up 99.67 percent. 

"We got 10 leased vehicles only three years old that we are putting more money into because they haven't been maintained and there is no accountability for it. So what I've established coming in our sergeants every shift evaluate and inspect every one of their deputies cars before they hit the road," he said, making sure the vehicles are maintained. "We don't have any old vehicles that should be sucking up a lot of maintenance, if they are taken care of properly."  

Overtime wages is trending at 38 percent, although that is under what it is $60,000 budget, he said. The department should be trending at 46 or 47 percent. "We kind of cut the bleeding on overtime when I came in," he said. 

He said salaries are only trending 1 or 2 percent over, which has come down since he took office.

Getting through this fiscal year, he thinks he can sit down to suggest cost-effective ideas to the Walker County Commission in order to form a workable Fiscal 2020 for the department that would start on Oct. 1.

He said he has hired additional part-time deputies for up to 29 hours a week to give additional manpower without having to pay for benefits. Commissioners and Dickerson have been helpful, with Dickerson, at his request, sending weekly updates on the spending to keep on top of spending. 

He said as for the 10 leased Tahoes for the department for $60,000 a year three years ago, which is costing the commission $5,000 a month for all of them, he has had them appraised. "What we owe the bank, versus what they will give us for the Tahoes, we're actually trending $8,000 to the good," he said. 

"I would like to go to four-wheel drive Chevy pickup trucks," to help in weather and other situations, he said. "If they would allow me to trade the 10 Tahoes that are on lease — it is a seven-year lease. Some of them are in the 180,000-mile range and we haven't had them for three years. There is no way they will survive to the end of that lease." 

If they are traded in while they still have equity, Smith said he will take the $60,000 the county commission is paying and instead pay it from his own discretionary funds.

"The plan would be to trade 10 Tahoes for 10 trucks," he said, "but the payment will be the same, $60,000 (a year). The Tahoes and the trucks are the same price. The lease will start over." 

In return, this will also free up money to put maybe a couple more part-time deputies on the road or help with other needs, he said, while also cutting down on repairs and maintenance. 

He said the Sheriff's Office is receiving $561,000 a year roughly in discretionary funding to spend on any law enforcement purpose. "In a four-year term, that is almost $2.5 million," he said. Three employees are paid out of the pistol permit fund, costing $60,000 a year.

Smith said he wondered why some of those funds didn't pay for upkeep in the jail over the years, noting the condition of the jail led the commission to agree to spending up to $900,000 to catch up on needed maintenance on the locks, toilets and other needs. 

Meanwhile, some things that have been purchased have been "the most expensive things that money can buy," he said. 

"We're looking at $38,000 in discretionary money that I have to come up with before I can start doing things I want to do for the department. That's upsetting. This should have been paid for. That's not including (another) four vehicles that were bought right before I got here," he said.

He said it has involved "a culture" at the jail, noting the sally port door (a controlled entrance to the jail) was in disrepair on his first week, and he was brought a repair estimate of $2,500. He told staff to call around, and he got repairs made for $650.

As a result, even with discretionary funds, a form has to be filled out for a purchase and Smith has to sign off on it. For example, he noted he just approved $6,000 of discretionary funds for new jail jump suits, as the old white ones were looking dingy, even to the point a judge complained how inmates looked when they came to court. "It's hard to keep white clean," he said.