Last week was the longest week of the year for members of the Madison County Commission’s budget committee.
The process that ends with the ratification of the County’s budget in a special called meeting near the end of June officially began last week with budget hearings.
Budget hearings are when department heads from all over the County’s government bring their budgetary needs to the committee to let them know how much money they’re asking for the 2023-24 fiscal year (July 2023-June 2024) and why.
A lot of these discussions may include a wrap-up of the current year, a look ahead at things coming up that might incur a number of large costs and even the condition and age of some of their equipment that may need replacing.
The committee is full of first-time committee members. One of them is Joey Hale, who’s in his fifth year serving on the Commission. He asked back in the winter about the possibility of the committee going to the departments for many of these meetings.
While many still happened at the County Finance Complex on Hollywood Drive, the committee did meet at different places like the Courthouse and Emergency Management.
Another place they met was at the Sheriff’s Office, where another person less than a year in his current role – Sheriff Julian Wiser – detailed for the committee how much the department budgeted a year ago under Wiser’s predecessor – former Sheriff John Mehr – and how the budget is changing since Wiser was sworn in on Sept. 1, 2022.
Budget committee chairman Carl Alexander complimented Wiser on one major change that’s happened in the Wiser administration.
“We know how messed up your budget is, and you haven’t brought any budget amendments to us asking for more money,” Alexander said. “And we’ve told you that it’s OK if you do bring us any requests because we trust you to know it’s necessary if you’re bringing it before the Commission.”
But Wiser hasn’t done that yet.
“It’s a promise that I campaigned on that I would do my best to not bring any budget requests to y’all for the first year I’m in office,” Wiser said. “Two more months and I can plan on using that when I run again as a promise made and a promise kept.”
During his presentation, Wiser updated the committee on how things are going in the department.
MCSO is doing OK in retaining patrolmen who work on the roads to ensure their safety and to respond to calls. The need for personnel is in the Criminal Justice Complex where there are 11 openings for jailers as they prepared to begin Phase 1 of opening the jail expansion this week with the first 60 inmates moving into the new facility.
“We’ve hired five in the past two weeks,” Wiser said. “So we’re hoping to get those filled at some point in the future.”
Wiser reminded the committee that Mehr cut corrections staffing during his tenure serving the county, so making up for that and then also filling any more openings recommended by state organizations based on the size of the new facility and its inmate population is why Wiser included a budget increase for the jail of $300,300.
While parts of the budget needed increases. Others didn’t. Overtime was removed from the budget as Wiser has revamped scheduling with one of the main purposes severely cutting – if not eliminating altogether – overtime for the good of the County’s finances and the deputies’ mental health.
That along with expenses Wiser cut out of the department including its own attorney, major and budget director, the department’s expenses have dropped noticeably in the eight months of the Wiser administration.
At the end of the presentation once all the numbers were discussed, Wiser’s budget he requested was an increase of less than $14,000 total.
The committee members expected much more because of the jail expansion operations beginning this month with the expectation being it will be fully operational by the end of 2023.
“We know the work you’re putting into this and have done to try to save the County money, and we appreciate it,” said Gary Deaton, who’s on the budget committee and is chairman of the County Commission.
Brandon Shields, firstname.lastname@example.org