Previously updated: Jan. 2, 2018, 5:19 p.m.
Though the fiscal year 2018 has begun, Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson is continuing his fight for more funding from the county commission with a lawsuit filed in the Superior Court.
Senior Superior Court Judge Fred Bishop has been assigned the case, which Johnson filed against the board of commissioners Nov. 6, and has set a pre-trial conference for Jan. 12 at 9:30 a.m. at the Dawson County Government Center.
Representing Johnson is local attorney Joey Homans, who argued at a November public meeting that the $8,273,080 budget approved by the commission in September is not sufficient for Johnson to adequately operate his department, and that the commission could easily fund the additional $700,000 that Johnson originally requested without pulling from other departments.
Homans said that the $130,000 that remained from the sheriff’s 2016 budget, which was put back in the county’s fund balance, should be replaced and that $250,000 from the 2017 budget should be carried over into 2018.
Homans also said that there are funding options for the Computer Aided Dispatch system the department is looking to purchase, as the commission allocated $260,000 for the CAD system in the sheriff’s 2018 budget, to be set aside and added to money to be allocated in 2019.
That money should be used instead to fund positions, Homans said, which cannot be grant-funded, and Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax money or a lease-purchase could cover the cost of the system.
Along with the $380,000 from previous budgets and the $260,000 from the CAD system, the sheriff’s budget would be increased by $640,000, close enough to the full amount for the sheriff to be satisfied, Homans said.
Johnson said the bulk of his request is for people: during his budget request presentation in July, he asked for nine positions to be unfrozen and a new investigator position to be created.
The board allowed one position to be unfrozen, a school resource officer, whose salary is paid in part by the county and in part by the board of education.
Johnson said that because a 2015 study of the department recommended there should be 139 positions at the sheriff’s office (currently there are 112), he should be allocated money to unfreeze the positions he asked for.
The positions requested include four detention officers, an investigator, a court services deputy, an accreditation manager and a communications officer.
In the commission’s answer to the sheriff’s lawsuit, County Attorney Lynn Frey wrote that the board denies that the full amount Johnson requested is necessary to enable him to carry out his duties, and that the 2015 study he presented doesn’t justify that the additional personnel are necessary.
Homans in the sheriff’s lawsuit wrote that the budget cut for the sheriff’s office 2018 budget “exceeds the budget cut for other county offices and departments,” to which Frey responded that the sheriff’s 2018 budget is a 12.03 percent increase over his 2017 budget, and that “all departmental budget proposals were decreased in the final budget.”
The county’s response further states that the sheriff has the ability to increase individual line items in his budget by moving the funds around and that the sheriff “was advised publicly that he may seek a budget amendment during the year and, depending upon the circumstances...such a requested amendment would be seriously considered by the board.”
In a Nov. 20 report to the commission, County Manager David Headley wrote that the increase to the sheriff’s budget from 2017 is nearly $1 million, “the largest increase for any department or office” and “the most the board could see doing without raising taxes.”