Charles sher­iff, com­mis­sion­ers far apart in bud­get talks

Maryland Independent - - News - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­ Twit­ter: @SykesIndyNews

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.”

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