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Commissioners amend budget for sheriff's office fleet

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Sherrif Neil Elks

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A request for additional funding to maintain and fuel the sheriff’s office fleet provoked a disagreement between Pitt County’s top law enforcement officer and the county manager.

The Pitt County Commissioners unanimously approved a budget amendment that added $100,000 to the sheriff’s budget during their Monday meeting, but not before expressing their displeasure, which was directed at Elks.

“It sounds like to me there has been a total miscommunication. That the sheriff’s office was thinking it was waiting for you (the county manager) and according to him the OK wasn’t given,” said Commissioner Melvin McLawhorn, who served as chairman for Monday’s meeting.

Elks said the problem began when the budget was approved and his office’s maintenance/fuel budget was cut by more than $300,000. The cuts were made because the commissioners budgeted about $1.1 million to purchase 43 vehicles, and it was believed maintenance costs would decrease.

“I was not given the green light to order the cars until late October, November,” Elks said. “We’re just starting the receive those cars now.”

The result is more money was spent on maintenance, he said.

Elliot disputed when approval to purchase the vehicles was given.

“The more I thought about this, the board did approve these (purchases) July 1, and technically the cars could have been ordered,” Elliott said. “Green light was given at that time when the funds were approved when the budget was adopted.”

Elks said he was trying to avoid a situation his office experienced several years ago, when his staff ordered vehicles only to find out they needed board permission.

Elliott said in a later interview that situation was different. In that instance, commissioners had discussed allocating money to buy vehicles but did not include funding in the budget.

The commissioners said they wanted to approve the vehicle purchases and several other expenditures at a later time, Elliott said.

Speaking to the current situation, Elliott said Elks is “really up against the wall” because his office has spent 97 percent of its maintenance money.

“I see no other options than allowing him to use these funds,” Elliott said. Without the money, Elks said he may have to park patrol vehicles and respond only to emergencies, Elliott said.

Contributing to the confusion, Elliott said, is that Elks’ budget manager retired mid-summer and former deputy county manager/chief financial officer Duane Holder left for a position in Cumberland County county government.

Commissioner Tom Coulson said he did not accept that reasoning.

You said you were waiting for a green light. I think, ‘What made you think you weren’t getting a green light until November? Were you waiting for the county manager?’” Coulson asked.

Elks said he asked Elliott about purchasing the vehicles, Elliott said he does not remember Elks asking him about the purchase.

“You don’t have funds anywhere else that you could shift?” Coulson said. “I don’t want to see public safety sacrificed as much as I don’t want to vote for this.”

“I feel like we are in a situation where we dropped the ball on both ends,” Commissioner Ann Floyd Huggins said. “Where do we go from here with all the mistakes that have been made here? I don’t think we want the sheriff to park the vehicles.”

Elliott said while the money would have to come out of the county’s general fund balance, the detention center, which is operated by the sheriff, housed more federal inmates that anticipated this year which is generating $700,000 in additional revenue that will go into the fund balance.

Also occurring during Monday’s meeting:

■ McLawhorn returned to the chairman’s seat on Monday because Commissioners Mark Owens Jr. and Glen Webb, this year’s board chairman and vice chairman, were absent.

“Both had separate court proceedings they could not get out of,” Elliott said. Owens is an attorney and Webb is a detective with the Greenville Police Department. The six remaining board members voted to excuse them from the meeting.

■ Elliott said he’s alerted department heads that they should plan for zero growth in their budget requests for fiscal 2018-19.

“I wanted the board to be aware of this, especially if you hear from department heads saying that the manager is redlining the entire budget, cutting all requested positions and expansions,” Elliott said.

The county health department has been notified it must repay part of its a Medicaid cost settlement it received in 2013, Elliott said.

A cost settlement fills in the gap between what Medicaid paid for a service during the fiscal year and what the health department actually spent.

Elliott said the health department was first told it had to repay $700,000 but the repayment was reduced to $428,605. Elliott said the county hopes to negotiate a further reduction.

There also was an error in calculating revenue from delinquent tax collections involving motor vehicles that could produce a $1.9 million deficit. The error didn’t involve collection of the revenue but the amount being twice counted, Elliott said. It may require the use of fund balance to fill the gap, he said.

New Deputy County Manager/Chief Financial Officer Brian Barnett is scheduled to deliver a presentation on the county’s revenue outlook for fiscal year 2018-19 during the Board of Commissioners March 26 meeting.

■ Commissioners unanimously voted to move forward with plans to pay for street improvements in Woodmoor Farms subdivision and later access the property owners for the work.

Elliott said it is likely the county will have to borrow money to undertake the project because of its size. He will recommend modifying the procedures for process to allow the county whatever interest rate the bank levies through the assessment.

■ Commissioners unanimously voted to award a $1.9 million contract to Burney and Burney Construction to expand and renovate the Pitt County Animal Shelter.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.

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