Another budget amendment for fiscal year 2021 came before the Haralson County Commission at their meeting on Tuesday, meaning that the budget has now been amended by $1.2 million — prompting one commissioner to cast blame.
The latest amendment was for $138,000 to pay medical bills for inmates. The bills are the subject of a current investigation into insurance fraud, said Sheriff Stacy Williams. The county will try to get the money back after the investigation is complete, he said.
That amendment followed another of just over $1 million that included a number of items such as a bonus that the commissioners gave to all employees in appreciation for their work during the pandemic.
But Commissioner David Tarpley expressed frustration at the total of the budget amendments.
“Am I right in saying that if any of these expenses had not occurred that money would have been going into our capital account?” Tarpley asked Don Johnson, the county finance director.
Johnson confirmed that it would have indeed gone to the county’s fund balance.
“Fortunately we’ve had the revenue stream coming in to cover expenses that we did not budget for in the 2021 budget year,” Tarpley said. “I don’t want the citizens of this county to think that $1.1 comes at the bad management or poor management of all the departments, or even this administrative office up here. Some things are out of our control — and when I say that I’m referring particularly tonight to Constitutional officers that have a right according to the Constitution and we have to fund those balances pretty much to what they say.”
When Sheriff Eddie Mixon left office in December, the office had spent roughly half of its budgeted funds, Tarpley said, and Commission Chairman Ronnie Ridley confirmed.
Still, Tarpley went on to say, the Haralson County Sheriff’s Office had accounted for more than $700,000 of the budget amendments, and opined why the new sheriff would have run so much over budget in just six months. He urged the residents to call their sheriff for an explanation or to let him know whether they approve.
“I personally, I’m not asking as a commissioner, I’m asking as a citizen of Haralson County, would like to see our Sheriff’s Department try to work within a budget, try to work with the commissioners,” Tarpley said. “We want to help you get to wherever it is you want to be; but we can’t do it overnight without taxing y’all to death and we want you to know that this is not our fault.”
Tarpley added that he did not have a problem with the job that Sheriff Williams was doing and in fact thought he was doing “a fantastic job.”
Although Williams attended the meeting, he was not asked to speak until later, when the issue of body cameras came up a few items down the agenda.
Ridley had approved the purchase of $42,000 not realizing that an additional $22,000 for maintenance of the vests for the four following years was part of the deal. He asked the attorney if he could still approve the purchase without approval from the entire Board of Commissioners.
With a department head, Ridley has the authority to approve an expenditure of up to $50,000 without bringing it to the board. Since the $22,000 a year would be paid each year, Ridley wondered if the issue would have to be brought to the board.
Williams then justified the expense to the commissioners, but he also hinted at Tarpley’s slam.
“Our agency is the last agency in this region to have body cams; we don’t have cameras in the cars,” Williams said. “A body cams shields us — I’m a taxpayer too, folks — it shields us from the liability that we are tasked with on a daily, monthly, yearly basis.”
The body cams provide evidence in court and protects both the victims of crimes and the officers if they are accused of excessive force for instance, everything is there on camera, he said.
“This money is going to be spent out of our SPLOST fund,” Williams said. “We saved our SPLOST fund, $144,000 all year long we didn’t spend a dime of it because we were waiting to have something like this for the people.”
Attorney David Mecklin said the way the contract was written, the county could end it any time they wanted after the first year, so it was fine to have been handled without going to the full Board of Commissioners. He added that the body cams are a good thing for the officers to have.
“To be fair on this, the sheriff is correct; it is an important thing for any law enforcement agency to have body cams on their officers,” Mecklin said. “It’s getting to the point where you’re virtually negligent if you don’t have that.”
The vast majority of the time they assist the police officers.
Brown said the money was well spent if it saved the county from having just one lawsuit.
As Williams walked back to his seat, the audience erupted in applause for him.
After the meeting, Williams said that the overages could be attributed to corruption he ran into at the jail, COVID, and bringing up to date a number of processes within the office, much of which was out of his control.
Because court had been virtually closed down for 18 months, the jail was overcrowded, forcing him to send inmates to other jails, and that meant paying them for the courtesy of housing them.
In addition, when he first came into office, an investigation at the jail uncovered some corruption that led to two jail staff arrests and 15 firings. When that happens, someone still has to work and that meant overtime pay, Williams said.
Another $40,000 was because the Commission had only allocated enough money to fund the Drug Task Force for a partial year, the remaining money had to be added in through the budget money.
Additionally, he had to increase the number of deputies at the courthouse. The county had been using uncertified people but that wasn’t proper, Williams said. It was a number of things that all added up to a lot of money, but much of it was out of his control, he said.
“I felt like I was unfairly [targeted],” Williams said.
In other business commissioners:
• denied a request by the Board of Assessors to hire Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions and Services for $560,000 to reassess all properties in the county. Three residents spoke against the request before the commissioners voted.
• tabled the information technology bids to determine whether the bid opening process should have been more transparent.
• allocated $1.9 million to be used as a match for a $19 million grant that SyncGlobal and Carroll EMC were applying for to provide broadband in the county. If the companies win the grant they would be able to expand their broadband projects bringing the service to between 70% and 80% of the properties in the county, said Eric McDonald, president and CEO of the Haralson County Development Authority and the Greater Haralson Chamber of Commerce.
• approved accepting a bid of $2,557,600 for road paving from C.W. Matthews Contractors and a $397,438 bid from E.R. Snell to pave the recreation department properties including the parking lot and drives. The acceptance of the bids is pending review of the documents by county staff to determine that they meet all the bid request requirements. The project will be paid with special purpose local option sales for transportation revenue and Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant funds from the state.