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Jefferson County Commission corrects sheriff on ‘defunding’ budget dispute

Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway claimed Thursday the County Commission is freezing 30% of his office’s budget and attempting to defund law enforcement.

Pettway asserted the budget freeze will impact the office’s ability to provide services including personnel, operational constraints, equipment upgrades, training, community outreach, and a potential increase in crime. office released a statement about their fiscal year 2024 budget.

However, the commission said the sheriff’s office was not correct. 

The commission had requested a 30% freeze of all funded existing vacancies throughout the County System for FY2024. Funding these vacancies ties up public funds by budgeting for positions that are unlikely to fill, the commission said. This prevents it from using those funds to address operational or capital needs. 

The Republican-majority commission said fiscal responsibility is a priority element. 

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“The Jefferson County Commission believes that being realistic about the current labor market conditions and shifting these funds to work for our residents instead of leaving them idle is the most responsible decision,” the commission said in its statement. 

At the time of the budget being adopted, the number of vacancies had been steadily increasing over the past few years. When the budget was adopted, the sheriff’s office had 123 vacancies. 

This would leave the department to fill 86 positions before running up against the frozen positions.  

Rather than continuing the current trend of increasing the total vacancies, the commission took the route of investing the recommended salary and cost of living increases for those 86 positions to increase the probability of filling them. 

County Manager Cal Markert said he had indicated to Pettway if hiring efforts exceed forecasts, and a business need exists, he is willing to work with the departments to address those specific situations.

That wasn’t enough for Pettway in his ideal surplus situation. 

The commission said the freeze “has no impact on operational expenses such as equipment, training, and outreach.”

“The Commission fully supports public safety, and the tireless work of our law enforcement personnel and to that extent, funded a 10% pay increase across the board for Sheriff’s deputies on FY 2024 and a 4.7% increase to the Sheriff’s overall budget,” the commission said. “The Commission also allocated $3.5 million to fund renovation of the Sheriff’s Barracks for the training academy, in addition to the special $1.5 million allocation at the end of FY2023 for a total additional investment of $5 million.

“We hope this is simply a misunderstanding.”

Grayson Everett is the state and political editor for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @Grayson270

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