Sheriff, commission debate budget cuts
by Jennifer Cohron
Sep 11, 2013 | 2229 views | 0 0 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Walker County Sheriff John Mark Tirey came before the Walker County Commission Tuesday afternoon to defend his position that the recent budget cuts he was asked to make would jeopardize public safety.

“I held up my right hand in 1995 that I’d uphold the law, support the constitution and see about the people of this county and their public safety. That’s still my position today,” Tirey said.

The commission has asked all department heads to trim four percent from their budgets in order to prepare for a $1.2 million payment on an 11-year-old, $27 million debt that will come due in 2018.

Tirey said that while he agrees with the idea as a whole, he cannot justify making the suggested cuts to his two budgets, which combined total more than $5 million.

“I have looked at this [the budget]. Four percent, four percent, four percent and four percent — you’re getting close to cutting half of the budget over this four-year period for the sheriff’s office and the county jail. There will be tumbleweeds growing through there,” Tirey said.

During his presentation, Tirey listed a variety of factors that make public safety so expensive, including maintenance of an aging fleet of vehicles, overtime to provide security at events such as the county’s annual fishing tournament, specialized training for employees, upkeep of the jail and the cost associated with running a department 24/7.

Tirey also made several references to portions of the Alabama State Code that make many of his duties mandatory.

Commissioner Keith Davis reiterated a statement he made in an earlier budget talk that four percent, or $92,000, could be taken from the sheriff’s office without jeopardizing public safety.

“To ask you to trim $92,000 off a $2.3 million budget to me is not saying you’re not important. That’s just where we have to be to get prepared for 2018. We’re not asking anything out of your department that we didn’t ask out of other departments,” Davis said.

Davis and Commissioner Steven Aderholt also cited statistics to support their argument that public safety could be addessed sufficiently under the cuts.

“Walker County spends $130 per jurisdictional citizen on public safety. That’s our jail and sheriff’s department. The only other county from the data we have that spends the same amount is Cullman County. They produce three times the arrests,” Aderholt said.

Aderholt stated that the average spent on public safety by area counties is $115 per citizen and that four percent cuts over the next three years would put Walker County in that category.

“I’m not disputing your facts. I’m just telling you, I can’t help if it costs $200 per citizen. When the phone rings, they expect somebody to come out,” Tirey said.

Aderholt also noted that the budgets for the sheriff’s department and jail have been reduced by more than $900,000 since 2010.

However, between 2006 and 2009, the budgets experienced a $1.2 million surplus, largely as a result of charity bingo being operated in Walker County.

Earlier in the meeting, Aderholt stated that the county’s budgets as a whole are still “out of whack” because local leaders did not make the necessary cuts in spending after the revenue from bingo went away.

“We’re still caught in the spiral of ‘bingo giveth and bingo taketh away,’” Aderholt said. “I think this $92,000 puts us closer to where we need to be on your budget. In regard to public safety, we’re still spending more per citizen in Walker County than any of the surrounding counties except for Cullman, and they have a 40 percent larger budget,” Aderholt said.

After a previous budget talk, Tirey sent commissioners a letter stating that he would not be making any recommendations regarding cuts to his budget. After a nearly hour-long discussion Tuesday, Davis encouraged him to reconsider.

“From a commissioner’s standpoint, I shouldn’t have to be in a situation from a department head that says, ‘I’m not going to do what you have asked other department heads to do and y’all do it.’ I think that is your job. I think you need to take this budget and come up with a $2.2 million budget and resubmit it to us so we can vote on it by Monday,” Davis said.

Tirey again stated that he could not do so in good conscience.

“I’m not being disrespectful, but I’m not going to cut my budget. I’m not,” Tirey said.