Green River Star -

By Stephanie Thompson
People Editor 

Sheriff's budget questioned


During the Sweetwater County Commissioners meeting, Sheriff Mike Lowell’s budget came under some scrutiny.

The Commissioners are requesting a meeting with Sheriff Lowell to discuss the projected budget overage of $291,000.

Chairman Reid West started the conversation by saying Sheriff Lowell is running out of time to get his budget back on track. He and the other county commissioners received a letter from Lowell informing the board that he is projecting a $291,000 shortfall.

West said the board did give Sheriff Lowell permission to move money around from department to department to balance the budget, but he can’t take money out of capital projects to cover salaries.

West said the commissioners also approved five new sheriff department positions, two in patrol and three in detention, in the amount of $103,000, which leaves the shortfall at about $188,000.

“It appears that some of it is due to paying out accrued comp time and overtime,” West said.

West didn’t understand why comp time was paid out. Usually comp time is given instead of paying overtime. There are only three months left to get the budget balanced before the end of the fiscal year.

“To my knowledge this has never happened before or not for a very long time,” West said. “Everyone typically lives within their budget, elected officials do.”

West said there are unforeseen occasions that arise for an amended budget, such as equipment failures, but not for overspent salaries without at least having a conversation about it.

Commissioner John Kolb said the flexibility allowed by the commissioners in the budget was supposed to be moved from line item to line item within the patrol and detention departments and other areas of the sheriff’s department.

“It seems that we should have a conversation about the county’s policy, when it comes to this, so we wouldn’t just allow a department head to make a change that would effect our budget in a negative way. Then we would have to deal with the consequences... and then we weren’t part of that decision,” Kolb said.

“These kind of changes are certainly not unforeseen, they were planned...” Kolb said.

He suggested they have a conversation with the elected official who went over the budget.

“Once the sheriff has agreed to the budget, I think he has an obligation to meet that budget,” Commissioner Wally Johnson said.

Commissioner Randy Wendling asked if the county has any policies that could address this issue and if it doesn’t does the county need to make one to address what will be done if there is a violation.

County Attorney Dan Erramouspe said there should be a distinction between payroll and other line items. He said he could meet with the sheriff and payroll to go over it.

In the future, the board should probably create some policy to address it.

“I don’t think we need a policy for someone to know they have to live within their budget,” West said. “What more is there to say? You have a certain budget and that’s it.”

Commissioner Don Van Matre said when he was a department head for the county he can remember watching his budget every month to make sure he was not doing anything he wasn’t supposed to do.

“I’m hoping that we’re not going to find ourselves in a situation where, for whatever the motivation was, that somebody did something that they shouldn’t have done,” Van Matre said.

He said he agreed with Commissioner West’s comments about not needing a policy to live within the budget.

The Commissioners agreed a discussion needs to take place with Sheriff Lowell and asked to put it on the agenda for their next meeting, which is April 17.


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