TUPELO • The Lee County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved its budget for the next fiscal year in a special called meeting Friday, with one supervisor expressing concern over the money allocated for the sheriff’s department.
District 4 Supervisor Tommie Lee Ivy ultimately voted for the budget after previously saying he would consider withholding his support if he did not get a commitment from Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson to hire more minority field deputies.
“This was a hard test for me to do, and I prayed about it,” Ivy said. “I couldn’t single out one department head in the budget without singling out every department head.”
Ivy said if he had voted against the budget, he would have been voting against the other county employees who he thinks do a great job.
Ivy also said he spoke to Johnson about the possibility of hiring more minority field deputies, but said Johnson only committed to hiring the most qualified people for positions.
“(Johnson) said he was just going to look for qualified people, and the sheriff said he wouldn’t make a commitment to getting more black field deputies.”
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson confirmed to the Daily Journal he had a conversation with Ivy and said Ivy specifically asked if the sheriff’s department could hire more black field deputies.
“I assured Mr. Ivy that I always hire the best qualified people for the position I’m looking to fill,” Johnson said.
The sheriff’s department receives the most funds from the county with approximately $7 million going to fund the department. Bill Benson, the interim county administrator, previously told the Daily Journal about $3 million is allocated for administration, $2.5 million is set aside for the jail, $300,000 goes toward the inmate work center and $1 million is for the juvenile center.
Additionally, Benson said he is pleased with the approved budget and said it serves the needs of the county and ensures the county departments have enough money to operate efficiently.
“It stays within its means without raising taxes,” Benson said.
A few small changes in the budget include purchasing new handicap voting machines for $134,000, increasing contributions for the public employee’s retirement system by $100,000 and giving county employees a 2% raise.
The county will also take on the responsibilities of operating the first circuit drug court, which will be no cost to the county.
District 3 Supervisor Tony Roper said he was pleased with the budget and thanked Benson for compiling the budget.
“It keeps the taxes low and keeps the county running,” Roper said.