Charles sheriff, commissioners far apart in budget talks
Sheriff Troy Berry (D) and the Charles County Sheriff’s Office have been diligent and aggressive in their pursuit of more funding and sworn officers for the department.
Over the last few weeks, Berry has made a couple of appearances before the Charles County Board of Commissioners during a commissioner meeting and during a public hearing to plead his case. But the county, for now, is standing its ground on its proposed budget.
As the county takes budget matters under consideration, County Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy (D) said their view on the sheriff’s request and other requests from other departments may change. But as of now, he said, they are still looking at options with limited resources.
“If we could do that, we would certainly like to be able to fund all of our requests in the sheriff’s office and the board of education and everybody else,” Murphy said. “But we’re limited.”
Murphy said the county has to be sure the decisions made during this budget session are sustainable. These are not “one-time costs,” he said, that last for one fiscal year. This impacts how the county moves forward.
At a commissioners meeting earlier this month, County Commissioner Amanda Stewart (D) requested more data from the sheriff’s office to strengthen the case for the requested budget increase.
The sheriff is requesting $8.3 million in increases from $79 million in its general fund allocation from last year. That increase would include an added 23 sworn officers and Berry would like to come up with a system to grow the sheriff’s office over the next few years.
David Eicholtz, the county’s director of Fiscal and Administrative Services, said the sheriff’s budget request would exceed the revenue sources the county has and would require a property or income tax increase.
“County Administrator Michael Mallinoff’s proposed balanced budget allots $3 million in available resources for the sheriff,” Eicholtz said. “An additional $7 million would need to be generated to fully fund the sheriff’s request.”
The current proposed budget addresses needs from every department without raising taxes, Eicholtz said. Murphy and County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) both said they have no interest in raising taxes on citizens.
The goal, Murphy said, is for the board of commissioners to approve and finalize the budget on May 3 during a commissioners meeting. The budget does not necessarily have to be finalized that day, he said, but that is the goal so far.
With the budget deadline looming, Berry reached out to the Maryland Independent to express his concerns for public safety.
“We have been significantly understaffed for a number of years,” he said, adding that the population growth in the county has spread the patrol division thin. “We have to put officers on the street. Last year, when we didn’t get any additional staffing at all, I had to make some tough choices. I had to look across the agency and go into some of my specialized divisions and move additional officers to our patrol division, which is the backbone of every agency.”
Berry said at a recent budget hearing that he may have to remove the 18 school resource officers and put them back in the patrol division.
He feels it is important to stay ahead of the curve to ensure the community stays safe as it continues to expand.
“The county commissioners and I must team up and come with a matrix on how we are to responsibly grow the sheriff’s office,” he said. “Because doing it budget process to budget process is not planning; it’s not managing. We’ve got to get on the same page where we’re managing properly, responsibly, but not out of crisis.”