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Higher insurance squeezes law enforcement budget

Friday, January 12, 2007

CHARLESTON -- Officials at the Mississippi County Detention Center will need to cut expenses to make room in the budget for higher health insurance costs.

Mississippi County commissioners met with Sheriff Keith Moore, Chief Deputy Charlie Marcum and Butch McHaney, jail administrator, during the regular County Commission meeting Thursday to discuss the law enforcement fund budget.

Presiding Commissioner Jim Blumenberg said law enforcement officials did well with their budget in 2006 but "the future is in doubt" for the fund in 2007.

Blumenberg noted about $100,000 less was spent than budgeted for law enforcement in 2006 but the fund also ended up with less revenue than projected to leave it about $38,000 in the red.

McHaney said the 2006 deficit may yet be corrected, however, with the collection of about $48,000 outstanding from other counties for boarding their prisoners.

With a 35 percent increase in insurance premiums for 2007, the law enforcement fund is facing an additional $65,000 in expenses for this year's budget.

All of the county's offices are faced with the higher insurance premiums but the law enforcement fund has the biggest challenge because it has significantly more employees than the other offices, commissioners said.

They also said other costs may go up such as liability insurance and workers compensation insurance.

Commissioner Homer Oliver said setting a budget is always a "best guess as to what might happen."

"There's no way to predict the revenue in the business we operate," Blumenberg said.

"When you are working on taxes, you know what you're going to get," he added, noting that revenue from boarding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement prisoners is not predictable like tax revenue.

Blumenberg said county offices must manage to operate on the revenue that is available.

"Our revenue stream doesn't go up like expenses," Commissioner Martin Lucas said.

Commissioners asked if contracting for food service as Scott County has done would be feasible for the Detention Center.

McHaney said he is concerned the food service would cut quantity and quality to achieve a price savings and that special diets are required for many of the federal ICE prisoners held by the county.

Lucas asked law enforcement officials to "be careful and frugal" for their 2007 budget request.

"We're all in this together and we're going to work it out," Moore said.

Commissioners said they will meet Thursday with Becky Tinsley, superintendent of the county's juvenile facility, to get more information on that facility's unexpected shortfall in 2006.

In related business, commissioners agreed to implement a new policy by which county employees are not eligible for the county's health insurance plan until they have worked six months for the county.