Utah County's austere 1989 budget wards off a tax hike for another year, but it also eliminates the possibility of running what Sheriff Dave Bateman calls "a constitutional jail."
Next year's projected budget of $16.8 million, passed during a public hearing Wednesday, is about $40,000 less than last year's budget. To avoid a tax hike next year, commissioners cut county departmental requests by $3.3 million.As a taxpayer, Bateman congratulated the commission for keeping taxes down. But as the county sheriff, he said he worries about the detrimental impact the tight budget will have on Sheriff's Department services and management of the county jail. Commissioners trimmed the department's requests by approximately $1 million.
Bateman told commissioners jail overcrowding, security and a shortage of jail personnel are growing concerns. Much of the funding cut from the Sheriff's Department budget was earmarked for remodeling that would have alleviated overcrowding.
"The jail is experiencing some critical problems at this point in time," Bateman said. "I said I would run a constitutional jail, and I will not be able to do that this year."
Because of overcrowding, some inmates are forced to sleep on the floor during weekends, he said, adding that the threat of a tax increase pales when compared to the threat of increased liability. Last weekend, three jail inmates attempted suicide.
"It's just a matter of time until someone is successful and we face a wrongful death action. The liability potential that I perceive, as we face it here, is enough that I can't afford to operate this facility with that hanging over me."
Bateman told commissioners taxpayers can expect cuts in some services currently offered, including a decrease in patrolling canyons for the Forest Service and elimination of County Courthouse security.
"We won't be able to do it. I do not have the personnel that I can commit to that. I guess I'll run the risk of being found in contempt."
Commissioner Brent Morris told Bateman the number of full-time sheriff's department employees has increased from 82 in 1984 to 127 this year. During the same period, the county's population rose only from 245,000 to 260,000. Morris said he feels the commission has responded responsibly to needs.
The Sheriff's Department wasn't the only department hit by cuts resulting from the commission's effort to keep taxes down.
"That goal was reached by paring the original departmental requests from over $20 million to the $16.8 million budget you have before you," County Auditor Bruce Peacock said. "That reduction was only possible by eliminating any proposed new employees, eliminating any merit pay increases for existing employees, curtailing education, training and travel budgets, and by materially reducing the capital and maintenance projects that were proposed."
In addition, he said reaching a balanced budget required appropriation of about $2.5 million in existing surplus funds.
"Unfortunately, life usually does not allow us to have our cake and eat it too," Peacock said of the need for county services and the lack of necessary funds. He said next year's projected revenues are, at best, even with this year's revenues and in many instances are projected to drop.
"Property tax valuation in the county from the end of 1985 through the end of 1987 increased less than 0.9 of 1 percent for that two-year period. Sales tax revenue has decreased from $822,000 in 1985 to an estimated $400,000 in 1989," he said.
"Revenue sharing was eliminated three years ago. Recording fees, which are indicative of local real estate activity, are down markedly."
Commission Chairman Malcolm Beck said the budget recommends a 2.65 percent cost-of-living increase for county employees, excluding elected officials. Personnel Director John McGuinn told commissioners elected officials haven't received a pay increase since 1985 and are falling further behind their counterparts in Salt Lake, Weber and Davis counties.
"Utah County has been very conservative," Beck said. Morris added that "the budget is a good budget, but it's not the one I would liked to have seen.">