Around the same time the Baldwin County Commission approved a $152 million budget for the 2016 fiscal year, which includes $22.9 million for the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO), the state’s Department of Examiners of Public Records released a report detailing results of its examination into the compliance of the BCSO’s so-called discretionary funds.
Baldwin County Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack said the discretionary funds pay for department needs not covered in the commission’s budget. Mack said the department will be able to add positions with the $22,931,956 allocation in 2016, which represents an increase of 9 percent over the previous fiscal year.
One of those positions is a deputy sheriff who is a licensed mental health expert who will deal with what Mack said is an increase in mental health commitments attributed to a rise in drug-related mental illness in the county. The BCSO is also adding a crime scene technician, an additional deputy assigned to the Baldwin County Corrections Center and an additional deputy for the county’s special operations unit.
Mack said nearly half the BCSO’s budget, approximately $10 million, will fund the operation of the county jail and the custody and feeding of inmates. The rest of the budgeted funds will pay for law enforcement operations, which includes the salaries of 300 employees. Of those, Mack said 130 employees work at the jail, as many as 120 work in enforcement and the rest work in administration.
The examiner’s report, released Sept. 11, studied the BCSO’s finances under Mack’s leadership from June 1, 2011, through Oct. 31, 2014. According to the report, the examination did not find any instances of noncompliance with state or local laws and regulations.
According to Mack, the size of the BCSO’s budget each year means it can expect to be audited every two to four years.
“It is somewhat random,” Mack said. “But we will be audited more often than a department with a smaller budget.”
Along with its budgeted funds from the County Commission’s general fund, the BCSO also has access to a handful of discretionary funds. According to the report, the BCSO’s largest source of funding outside of the Commission is its Pistol Permit Fund, which collects money from pistol permit fees.
Money collected through the Pistol Permit Fund can be used at the sheriff’s discretion for law enforcement purposes, which Mack said can include additional bulletproof vests, computers or other expenses not fully funded through the county commission’s general fund.
Mack said most of the discretionary funds are designated for special purposes. Drug seizure funds, he said, must be spent on drug education and prevention programs.
“If we are budgeted for 20 vests, but we need 30, the discretionary funds are where we can get money to buy the additional vests,” Mack said this week.
According to the examination, the BCSO collected more than $2.1 million in receipts to the Pistol Permit Fund between June 1, 2011, and Oct. 31, 2014. During that time the BCSO disbursed more than $1.3 million from the fund to pay for law enforcement expenses, equipment, furniture and other expenses. The BCSO Pistol Permit Fund’s excess was $772,280.46 during the examination period.
The report also shows the BCSO collected $1,891,583.19 in receipts into the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Fund during the examination period, while spending $1,883,210.59 from the fund during the same period.
Money for the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Fund is collected from the proceeds of the sale of essential items used by inmates at the Baldwin County Jail as well as the receipt and disbursement of jail telephone commissions. The Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Fund is expected to be spent on operations costs and care of inmates at the jail.
The report also shows the BCSO received $790,023.79 in its Process Serving Fund, which accounts for fees obtained through serving civil papers for the county’s district and circuit courts. During the examination period, the BCSO disbursed $538,340.10 from this fund to pay for equipment and furniture and $50,826.18 for contract labor.
The BCSO’s Service Fund, which collects money from inmates for medical needs and supplies and transporting federal prisoners, received $1.5 million between 2011 and 2014. Another discretionary spending source is the Drug Seizure Fund, which received $121,424.13 during the examination period. Disbursements from the fund are determined by court order.
“They are called ‘discretionary funds’ because I can use my discretion in how to spend the money, but we still have to follow guidelines,” Mack said this week. “Every fund has restrictions, and we have to follow them.”
According to the report, the BCSO received $371,199.58 in state and local drug forfeiture receipts and $362,901.59 in federal drug forfeiture receipts.
Mack said the BCSO uses much of the discretionary funding to pay for quarterly training exercises. The BCSO also sends employees to training events in other cities and supports law enforcement training in a handful of the county’s municipalities. Discretionary funds also pay for unbudgeted expenses like computers and repairs to the BCSO’s nine physical facilities.
“Generally, the county will pay for major repairs like air conditioning, but we use the discretionary funds for painting, basic maintenance and upkeep at our facilities,” Mack said.
In June, following a report on a Mobile County Sheriff’s Office $712,000 no-bid contract using discretionary funds to construct a storage facility, Mack told Lagniappe the BCSO always seeks bids on capital projects and is careful to follow state bid laws. Despite the fact the discretionary funds are not subject to state bid laws, Mack told Lagniappe the BCSO conducts an informal bid process for small projects and puts larger projects out for bid.