Itawamba County leaders have added more than a quarter of a million dollars to the sheriff’s budget to help fund his department through the end of the year.
Last week, the Itawamba County Board of Supervisors voted to amend the sheriff’s department’s budget by an additional $260,000. The amount should carry the department through the end of the year without needing further adjustment, barring any major unforeseen expenses.
Speaking of which, unforeseen expenses are the primary cause of the department’s excessive spending. These include a 32-hour standoff in December and a multi-day capital murder trial in May.
“You name it, this particular year, he’s had it,” county administrator Gary Franks said of the sheriff.
Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson said the standoff in particular came with a heavy price tag. The Golden-area standoff required his full department to work nonstop throughout.
“This was a 32-hour deal. That’s a week worth of salaries,” the sheriff said.
The county jail has been another drain on the sheriff’s coffers. In June, the county board voted to amend the jail’s budget – technically separate from the sheriff’s department, but under the sheriff’s purview – by an additional $325,000 to cover expenses through the end of the year. The primary culprit is overcrowding, which has forced the sheriff to house an overflow of prisoners in the Tishomingo County Jail at a cost of around $20,000 a month. The jail was initially budgeted around $5,000 per month for this expense.
“I’ve had to find myself some kind of peace with the jail,” Dickinson said. “We’re not happy about it, but it is what it is.”
The construction of the county’s long-planned 100-bed jail should alleviate the issues with overcrowding, but has no set completion date. Board president Eric “Tiny” Hughes said they hope to have the jail in the process of being built by some time next year.
County officials said even running at the bare minimum – utilities, salaries, fuel, etc. – there would be no way for the sheriff to make his budget without additional funds. The only other option would be to cut jobs.
With the exception of the sheriff’s department’s budget, the county looks to be in decent financial shape heading toward the end of the fiscal year. The county’s assessed value is expected to be up by an additional half-million dollars this year.
Despite the increased assessed value, which means each mill of tax has more value and brings in more money, taxpayers are unlikely to see a tax decrease during the next fiscal year. County leaders said the extra money will be needed to fund the construction of the new jail.
Franks also told supervisors the county currently has $400,000 less in the bank this year than they did at the same time last year, despite similar revenue.
“You know what that means,” Franks said. “Expenses are going up. We’ve got to watch that.”