Sheriff: Sales-tax hike would help in many ways

PAXTON — If the Ford County Board ends up establishing a quarter-cent sales tax to help fund public-safety expenses, Sheriff Mark Doran said the estimated $220,000 per year in additional revenue would help his office maintain its aging fleet of squad vehicles, hire an additional dispatcher and stay within budget on costs associated with such things as employee overtime pay and inmate meals.

“I have a budget of a little over $2 million a year for the sheriff’s office, and $1.5 million of that is salaries and benefits, so I’m really running the sheriff’s office off of about $500,000 a year,” Doran said.

“The last couple of budgets, I’ve been very, very lean. I mean, I’ve had to cut it close for the last two years. I still pretty much broke even for what I budgeted for and what I spent, but it’s cutting it too close, especially when our job is one that you have no idea what is going to happen throughout the year. If you have a major investigation or something like that, that costs an awful lot of money.”

If approved by the Ford County Board following November’s election, the proposed sales tax would increase Ford County’s sales-tax rate from 6 1/4 percent to 6 1/2. The anticipated $220,000 in annual revenue would be used exclusively for public-safety purposes.

“The major thing I’m looking at is keeping squad cars,” Doran said. “The biggest thing we’re dealing with right now is we haven’t been able to purchase squad cars for the last three or four years, and so our fleet’s getting an awful lot of miles on it. I usually like to get rid of them before 150,000 miles are on them, and we haven’t been able to do that. So that would be one of the biggest advantages to (the additional revenue).

“The other thing is I would like to hire another dispatcher. That way we would have three dispatchers — one for each shift. As it is right now, correctional officers who are trained also in dispatch are having to (fill in as dispatchers), and that puts us tight, especially in the summer time with vacations and sick leave and all that we have to cover.

“So the money would help.”

Doran said the additional funds would also help cover budgeted overtime costs, as well as expenses for inmate meals.

“Our overtime budget this year is going to be cutting it close,” Doran said. “I won’t be over on the total amount allotted (in the budget), which I have to stay within, but you still have to kind of cut and scrimp in certain line items so that you can make sure (expenses stay within budget).

“And our food budget for the jail, I used to have $130,000 in there a year,” Doran said, noting those expenses would be covered by income received from the U.S. Marshals Service and Federal Bureau of Prisons for the boarding of federal prisoners at the jail.

“But this year I’m going to be over in that budget, as well,” Doran said. “And obviously we still have to feed these prisoners.”

Doran said that in recent years, income for the boarding of federal prisoners has been used to cover costs in the county’s general fund, not the sheriff’s office’s budget. And that has put a strain on Doran’s budget.

“The U.S. Marshals and Bureau of Prisons is really what’s been keeping Ford County afloat,” Doran said. “It keeps the whole county afloat as far as the county government goes.”

Doran, though, is planning to use some of the boarding income in upcoming years to supplement his own budget. The county board’s finance committee suggested Thursday that the sheriff prepare for anticipated vehicle purchases by earmarking 20 percent of the boarding income for that specific purpose. Doran said $33,000 was received in boarding income last month alone.

“I actually think that the 20 percent of what I bring in from the U.S. Marshals would be quite a help to us,” Doran said.

The committee made the suggestion after Doran said he expects the sheriff’s office will need to buy “two or three” more squad vehicles “in the next two years,” as three already have more than 120,000 miles on their odometers. Doran earlier had asked that the county provide him a $21,500 check to pay for a 2013 Chevrolet Tahoe the sheriff’s department acquired from the village of Gifford for use as a squad vehicle.

Doran said he understands the cash-strapped county needs to find ways to bring in more revenue, but he is not sure the public will support a sales-tax increase.

“Even though the economy’s doing better, that’s no guarantee (the support will be there),” Doran said.

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