Sheriff’s Office, sales tax dominate discussion

Roseanne McKee
Osage County Commissioners Randall Jones, First District, Kevin Paslay, Second District, and Darren McKinney, Third District, met to discuss the budget for fiscal year 2019-2020. Roseanne McKee/Journal-Capital

At a special meeting of the Board of Osage County Commissioners at 9 a.m. Aug. 13 budget requests for the fiscal year 2019-2020 were presented by department heads. At the meeting a decrease in county sales tax and the needs of the sheriff’s department took center stage.

Before the discussion ensued, County Clerk Shelia Bellamy reiterated to the commissioners and to the audience the purpose of this step in the budget process.

“All we are doing today is reviewing the requests by the different department heads. What the board here will do is give their OK for me to submit it to the budget maker. The budget maker then takes all of our numbers … and figures out if there’s enough money for all the funding requests we’ve asked for. … It’s not final until after we meet with the budget maker and the Excise Board has approved it. I don’t have a date for that, Bellamy said.

Effective Nov. 1, the officers’ monthly travel allowance will be increased by $100, she said, for the county commissioners, county clerks, treasurer and assessor.

In addition, a new law was enacted that increases the salaries of elected officials, she said.

“We don’t qualify under that. We’ll still be under the old formula. We don’t qualify for the new formula until we start a new term; and it’s recommended that nobody get a new salary. That way all of the county commissioners will be in a new term and will be eligible for the raise,” Bellamy explained.

The officers’ salaries did increase.

“As usual it wasn’t very much,” Bellamy said.

“It went from $57,587.40 to $57,787.50, and in order to make that come out 12 months even, it’s actually going up to $57,787.44.”

In addition they did get the new health insurance information and so Bellamy was able to include those in her calculations, she said.

Regarding health insurance, Community Care increased $71 and Health Choice High increased $21.

The district attorney’s office hasn’t changed their request for funds in three years.

The sheriff’s office requested $597,787.44. This is for wages, insurance and dispatchers, Bellamy said, which is paid out of the general fund.

Osage County Sheriff, Eddie Virden said the county jail is getting older. “We have issue after issue,” Virden said. “Currently we’re working on the drains from the kitchen that are falling apart. We’re trying to put a Band-Aid on it now but who knows how long it’s going to be before we have to go through each cell and replace those lines. We’ve been through our camera system and it is failing. We’re just working day to day and it’s probably not going to get any better. …”

The sales tax has not been what it was the last few years, Bellamy said. “It has gone up but it has not stayed up there. So, the Excise Board did not approve the other 50% from the sales tax yet. For one thing, that money has to accumulate first before they can disburse it. And, there’s not 50% more there … so they tabled that for right now. They have 50% to start the new year. … They wanted to see where we were at with the General Fund and talk about it again when the budget was here. … There will probably be enough sales tax come in to make it through this year,” Bellamy said.

The budget problem is going to start next year.

Commissioner Darren McKinney said next year the budget could be $800,000 to one million dollars short.

“It’s probably something we should start looking at next year instead of being a complete knockdown next year. I think we’ve been experiencing the last — how many years. …”

Bellamy said it has been happening since 2014 due to less sales tax being received.

“My understanding is back when the jail was built, they were getting $400,000 plus a month from that one penny sales tax and now we’re down to $230,000 to $250,000,” McKinney said.

Bellamy said it had been about $250,000 monthly and $270,000 the last two months.

“Even at that from $400,000 to $270,000, we all know we’ve just lost so many businesses throughout the county to the big corporations and they probably aren’t coming back,” McKinney said, and listed the loss of grocery stores in Hominy and Barnsdall.

Those people are shopping for groceries outside the county.

“We were at a meeting recently with our senator and all of our state representatives and I brought this up,” McKinney said.

“All the big counties without big towns in them are going through what we’re going through and then those bigger counties with the bigger towns are getting a bigger boom. Our system was set up before travel was so easy and ready and before all of the corporations,” McKinney said.

“Next year we will probably have to receive part of our funding from you guys or I’m not sure what we’ll do,” McKinney said.

“For the sheriff’s department, payroll and health insurance are probably their biggest cost,” Bellamy said adding they have to operate the jail and feed the inmates.

“We’re at maximum capacity almost every day. DOC cut the people going to prison and put that back on each county,” Virden said.

Those who went to DOC in the past can be in the county jail for up to one year, he added. “Expenses are going up and collections are going down. It’s a problem. We were able to give some of our employees a raise in 2017 but nothing since. We’ve lost a lot of good, experienced employees to state and municipalities. We’re definitely headed for a trouble spot — at least for the sheriff’s department. “We’ve got the opioid lawsuit that the county joined in … that might be a lifeline that could carry us down the road further. But I think long-term the state’s just going to have to restructure the way they distribute that tax base. Because no one can deny the majority of those who live in Osage County shop outside the county. … It’s affecting all of the rural counties.”

The Osage County Sheriff’s Department still employs the same amount of patrolmen on the street as they were in the early 2000s, Virden said.

“A lot of times we only have three deputies covering the entire county and if we get a major situation going we just rally and get people there as quick as we can but if you’re that one deputy up along the Oklahoma Kansas line, you just have to dig in and hold on. It can be a long time getting help and the same thing for a citizen up there waiting for a response. … Those are just things we’ve got to consider.”

The sheriff’s association is trying to arrange for sheriff deputies to get a 20-year pension, like Department of Corrections officers do, Virden said.

“Like it or not, we have a shelf life on what we do because of having to fight the people we have to fight and do the things we have to do. And, they deserve that, but if they ever pass it it’s going to bring in another cost that we’ve never faced before,” he said.

The 20-year pension might also help them retain employees, McKinney said, and Virden agreed.

McKinney promised to consider the situation further, saying, “we’re going to have to find a way, somehow, of getting the sheriff’s department more money.”