As 2020 came to a close and we entered 2021, I wanted to fulfill a campaign promise and provide the taxpaying citizens of Walker County with a review of how their money was put to work at the Walker County Sheriff’s Office.
2020 was a trying time for everyone, but the WCSO adapted well to the volatile uncertainty. While hopes were high and plans were made for 2020 after finishing the fiscal year 2019 under budget, the unexpected struggle that came with a worldwide panic threw a few things off kilter.
While the 2020 budget saw no increase and the department was level funded, three main things contributed to a budget overage in such an unprecedented year — the COVID-19 pandemic, a higher inmate population (at times well into the 360’s due to the state’s decision to halt incoming prisoner transfers to state facilities due to COVID-19) and inmate medical and feeding costs being abnormally high for an extended period of time due to the state moratorium on extradition.
These three things, while unavoidable and unexpected, created a tougher than usual fiscal environment. In addition to those state mandates, we were put behind on negotiations with federal officials to house pre-trial federal inmates in the Walker County Jail, which would have provided a financial benefit to the county. Those negotiations, which normally take between 2-3 weeks, ended up taking around six months, causing our projected revenue to become unattainable in the fiscal timeframe.
While state and federal officials navigated the new normal, we had to wait for relief from those changes. Once state and federal officials enacted the CARES Coronavirus Relief Act, county officials took advantage of the funds available and righted the ship as much as they could in the timeframe that was available.
Going into 2021 armed with a better knowledge of how to navigate during the pandemic, and with the fruits of our team’s hard work, we are in a much better budgetary position to be even more successful than we have been in previous years. While we finished the first quarter of 2021 with a total overage of $143,650 — $130,203 in the Sheriff’s Office and $13,447.00 in the jail — we are set to receive amendments in the amount of $178,906.
Once those amendments are applied, they will eliminate the overage and actually bring us in at $35,256 UNDER budget for the first quarter. Those amendments are possible because of multiple factors, all of which can be attributed to the hard work of your elected officials and their staffs.
County Administrator Robbie Dickerson has done a masterful job securing $83,594 in federal CARES Act funds to offset overages related to COVID-19. In addition to federal funds, Administrator Dickerson has secured $95,312 in reimbursements from the state level for the housing of state inmates in the county jail due to the moratorium placed on extradition due to COVID-19. We are more than proud of Miss Dickerson and her willingness to work with us to achieve the common goal of maximizing our relief funds and using them to the best of our ability.
In addition to those reimbursements, Director of Operations Nick Key was finally able to renegotiate our federal inmate contract after an approximately six-month freeze, securing an increase from $31 a day per inmate to $45 a day per inmate. That increase alone will account for approximately $100,000 or more than we generated over the same time period last year under the old contract, and those funds will continue well into the future for the life of the contract.
Those amendments and reimbursements, along with several others such as courthouse security, county litter crews, and SRO payments from the County Board of Education, accounted for our ability to come in under budget. Moving forward, we will enjoy relief from the fact that the first quarter had seven pay periods as opposed the normal six and the customary worker’s compensation payments and employee Christmas bonus that account for a $213,632 hit to the budget before another dime is even spent.
I am beyond proud of the hard work and dedication to making sure we navigate these tumultuous times with a focus on fiscal responsibility. From my office to the folks up the street at the Commission, we have all made a strong and concerted effort to make sure we protect taxpayer funds during these difficult times.
The Sheriff’s Office alone will generate in the neighborhood of $800,000 in revenue just from our commitment to seek out available streams that allow us to operate at the level we do without burdening the taxpayers of Walker County anymore than they already are. That level of revenue production is unheard of on a county level and credit goes to County Administrator Robbie Dickerson, Chief Deputy Anthony Leach, Director of Operations Nick Key, and the entire jail staff here at the Sheriff’s Office for taking on the additional work and responsibilities that allowed us to secure that kind of revenue.
I have to tip my hat to the County Commission as well for recognizing the extra work we put into seeking out additional revenue and allowing us to put that money right back into the Sheriff’s Office so we can provide the level of public safety that Walker County deserves. The ability for us to invest that money back into people, equipment, and training for our employees is appreciated and this county owes them a great deal of gratitude for their commitment to public safety.
Nick Smith is the sheriff of Walker County.