Sheriff, justice of the peace present budgets
Last updated 7/1/2020 at 11:31am
Hill County Justice of the Peace Audrey Barger and Hill County Sheriff Jamie Ross presented their departments’ proposed budgets for the coming fiscal year in separate meetings with the Hill County Commission Tuesday and discussed some COVID-19-related issues that have had effects on those budgets.
Barger said her budget makes allowances for hiring a court reporter, which she said, might become necessary amid the pandemic.
She said socially distancing jurors in the courtroom makes traditional recording impossible so depending on how long the pandemic lasts she may need to employ the services of a certified court reporter, which she has had to do once so far.
“I usually only have one or two jury trials a year, but I have to make sure that I have money for that if I need it,” she said. “If things go back to being normal, I won’t have to use it, but things seem like they’re not really getting better and I can’t expect jurors to sit six inches from each other.”
Barger said income is down a little bit this year partially because she has not done any monetary compliance since March, though she said, she recently signed some paperwork for resuming the practice.
“It’s something I chose not to do because that means arresting people for failure to pay and having them in the detention center in close quarters,” she said.
She said this hasn’t put a major dent in income, but still thought it was worth mentioning.
Barger also said the collection of fees has likely been impacted by the pandemic as well.
“I imagine the fines and fees depends on what people can pay right now,” she said. “I mean there are some people I see right now that don’t have jobs.”
Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson said he wished the situation wasn’t so uncertain.
Barger agreed, and said she tried to construct her budget with that uncertainty in mind.
“I wish I knew what was going to happen as well,” she said.
Barger said she’s been able to find ways to handle COVID-19 related expenses without having to increase the budget any more than necessary.
She also said remote working with social distancing has been successful and she doesn’t feel behind at all.
“We’re busy like we always are,” she said, “but with the technology in our office I’ve managed to keep things rolling right along.”
The budget meeting with Ross included some discussion of COVID-19 related issues as well including that his department had received $58,000 in funds for COVID-19 related expenses.
He said he hasn’t received any CARES Act funding and he didn’t feel comfortable applying for it because he didn’t feel that there is a need.
However, Ross brought up another potential issue his department is facing, record storage.
“In the Sheriff’s Office, we are completely out of space to put any more filing cabinets at all,” he said. “Now we’re stacking stuff on top of cabinets.”
He said he’s put $15,000 in the budget for a records server that he can use to digitize jail records. Though he said this project would likely require further funding down the road, he sees it as the cheapest way to maintain the departments records.
“That’s a hell of a lot cheaper than building another building for records storage,” he said.
Ross said he knows the county doesn’t have unlimited resources and that he’s trying as best he can to keep his budget reasonable.
“I don’t make unnecessary increases,” he said, “I know budgets are tight.”
Peterson suggested that further use of grants might be a way to increase funding for various departments without having to ask taxpayers for more money, and that the Sheriff’s Department has seen a lot of successes with these grants.
“Your grant requests have been pretty well-received because they’re getting funded, which means that they see a need,” he said.
Ross said he has his hands full managing the grants he already has.
“A guy can only manage so many grants at a time before it becomes a problem,” he said.
Peterson suggested that he could hire someone to take that work off his plate, but the matter was not discussed any further.
Both budgets were taken under advisement by the Hill County Commission.