$2.5 million moved to other areas
By Othor Cain
In what is being described as a major blow to public safety in Hinds County, supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday, Sept. 4, to cut the sheriff’s department budget by $2.5 million for the next fiscal year, that begins Oct. 1. “The decision by the supervisors puts the entire county at risk,” Hinds County Sheriff Tyrone Lewis said. “It totally puts employees in jeopardy. It puts inmates in jeopardy – everybody affiliated with the jail.”
The Sheriff’s Department, which includes county jail operations, had asked for $28.5 million for fiscal 2013. Its current budget is $21.5 million.
District 5 Supervisor Kenneth Stokes proposed the recommended cuts so that $1 million-plus could go toward giving all county employees a minimum of $100 raises, and that another million go into the county’s reserve fund. “I made a commitment that I would not vote on a budget unless it included a raise for all employees of the county,” Stokes said. “I plan to honor that.”
Joining Stokes with decreasing the sheriff’s budget were District 2 Supervisor Doug Anderson and District 4 Supervisor Phil Fisher. “I think the sheriff has what he needs to hire more jail staff and to increase guards’ salaries, now about $21,000 annually,” Fisher said. “He has 36 patrol officers. That’s two times the number under the previous administration.”
Lewis is accessing the impact that the proposed cuts would have on his department. “If these cuts stand then it will impact our delivery of services straight across the board,” he said. “It would hinder our mission and quite frankly employees will have to be terminated.”
Based on a federal mandate at the detention center facility in Raymond, for 594 inmates, Lewis is required to have 220 employees. “I have between 210 and 211 today…this number fluctuates daily,” he said.
District 1 Supervisor and Board President Robert Graham voted against the measure via telephone from Charlotte, N.C., where he is attending the Democratic National
Convention. “I am appalled by this,” Graham said. “Think of the consequences of what we’re doing…with all of the problems we are having and with crime being a major concern, now is not the time to cut the sheriff’s budget.”
District 3 Supervisor Peggy Hobson-Calhoun joined Graham with a ‘no’ vote. “We can be fined and sanctioned for every day we are not in compliance,” Calhoun said. “These cuts do not provide adequate funding for housing prisoners.”
Graham plans to call a special meeting Monday, Sept. 10, in an attempt to reverse the board’s decision.