Darren Doyle, story and photo:
Edmonson County magistrates approved the 2020 budget for Sheriff Shane Doyle's office today, but one lower than requested by the sheriff, who said he'd already cut as much as he could.
The approved amount was for $666,000 for the upcoming year, which is $28K less than what Doyle requested, but $50K more than last year's $616K. Doyle said the increased amount was mainly to provide a raise to his deputies and provide more overtime as a result of the increased amount of calls for his office, in addition to large increases in state retirement and health benefits, which his office is required to pay. Doyle has said that these costs have risen drastically over the past couple years and his budget has been forced to absorb it. The Sheriff requested a budget amount of $694,000. Doyle's salary is set by the state and neither he nor the county have any say in that.
Doyle said after much research and several meetings with County Treasurer Tammi Willhite, they found $50K from last year's budget not yet earmarked. The additional $28K was due to additional tax revenue his office had collected, and Doyle said he even felt like that number is estimated to be even higher.
"I've got to keep my employees happy, I've got to try to keep the taxpayers happy, and I've got to try to keep you all (magistrates) happy. And so, what I'm trying to do with this budget I've turned in of $694,000, is I'm trying to get my employees pay rates up to somewhere close to what other employees of the county make," said Doyle. "Particularly, the County Clerk's office, which is the only other fee office we have in this county besides me. It still wouldn't make the rates the same as the deputy clerks at the County Clerk's office. It's getting them a little bit closer. We are in a position right now, with the deputies we have, with the exception of Deputy Meredith (who is currently attending law enforcement academy), they're well experienced, highly trained, and they're very desirable for other agencies to steal. That's exactly the way I think about it. We've paid to train them, we put them through the academy, and we've given them every bit of their experience."
Doyle went on to commend his staff and the work they provide for Edmonson County taxpayers. He said the experience his officers get is much richer than that in larger towns because county deputies work all sorts of cases that include larger, higher profile cases for just a few officers on top of the normal small town calls for service.
"Every time one of them leaves and goes somewhere else to make more money and better retirement, we have to start that process all over again," he said. "And we also lose quality workers. And that will happen if we can't pay them better."
Doyle said he wouldn't ask for that number if he felt the county would be put in a bind.
"That's what I feel like we need to do to properly serve the residents of this county and to properly reward the people that are working very, very hard for everybody here."
Judge Executive Wil Cannon said he didn't think anyone would say that deputies didn't work hard but because of a low tax base, past revenues, and rising retirement and jail costs, the number requested was too high. He felt that a comfortable budget number that could be handled by the county was $663K. He also discussed that if jail costs continue on the same pace from Hart County Jail, a budget amendment would have to be approved for an additional $70K this year for those costs alone.
Cannon also said he felt like the county shorted Doyle $7K on last year's budget and he added that back to his proposed number.
Doyle noted that in 2014, the fiscal court funded 26% of the Sheriff's budget compared to only 23% now, largely due in part to the rising retirement and health benefit costs that his office has had to absorb. He said in order to continue at this pace, the county would either have to pay more or cut services. "People want services, they don't want to hear 'magistrates wouldn't give me the money.'"
Cannon passed out old activity reports to magistrates from when he was sheriff and said that the stats were not that much different back then. He also passed out copies of dispatch reports that said calls for service aren't that much different either.
Magistrate Edd Rich told Judge Cannon that he and the sheriff should've already had a suitable amount between the two prepared and then have that amount ready to be presented to fiscal court. Cannon said he presented Doyle with a number but Doyle wasn't happy with it. Mag. Rich made a motion to accept a budget amount of $666K, but County Attorney Greg Vincent said the motion on the agenda was to either accept or reject the Sheriff's requested amount of $694, which passed unanimously to reject. Mag. Rich then made a motion to accept the $666 amount, seconded by Mag. Johnny Brooks. All magistrates voted "Yes" except for Mag. Corey Vanmeter, who said he felt like the amount wasn't enough, and Mag. James Vincent, who said the amount was too high. The motion passed 4-2.