County legislators approve various budget reconciliations

MAYVILLE — County legislators on the Audit and Control Committee spent much of Thursday morning approving changes to balance out the 2016 budget.

For many departments, budget overages from last year stemmed from wage increases as a result of a labor contract that was ratified and approved with 900 CSEA Unit 6300 members in November 2015. Kitty Crow, finance director, told legislators the agreement was approved after the 2016 budget was adopted.

Most departments were able to cover the expense using a health insurance surplus. Others balanced their budgets utilizing funding outside the department.

Notably, a large portion of overages in the Sheriff’s Office surrounded County Jail costs, which totaled over $700,000. The rising number of inmates, those who require constant watch, such as drug addicts, and filling and maintaining the mandated staffing in the facility factored into the increase.

In addition, Sheriff Joe Gerace noted getting inmates sentenced, out of the jail and into state prison is slow. Some inmates are kept in the local jail for a year or more as a result.

Some of those who are sentenced are only getting a year in the local jail as opposed to being sent to state prison. Inmates who require medical attention also bring increased costs since it’s all borne to the county.

“We have, in my opinion, people who are in jail that don’t belong there,” Gerace said. “They should be in state prison. We have people that stay longer than they should because the system works so slowly. Those costs we can’t control.”

Overall, Gerace said work outside the budget through the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is something he’s optimistic about in order to right-size the jail. Finding fill-ins for corrections officers who are out sick or on vacation will continue to be a challenge with a limited number of part-timers available. Full-time corrections officers are staying and gathering overtime as a result.

County legislators approved budget changes within the Sheriff’s Office using surpluses within the department and community college tuition.

The committee also approved changes to the Health and Human Services Department’s budget due to increased costs within various programs. A total of $75,100 in additional funds were allocated to cover juvenile delinquent care expenses. The payment dates back to services provided in 2013.

Legislators also approved to move funds to cover increased handicapped preschool education tuition costs, which totaled $380,000, and foster care costs, which totaled $300,000.

Unified Court costs went over budget by $296,880. The overage stems from child custody cases in which Family Court ordered psychiatric testings. County Attorney Steve Abdella said they contract with Legal Assistance of Western New York. Abdella noted the expense was unforeseen. A surplus in community college tuition was utilized to cover the assigned counsel costs.

Overall, chairman Pierre Chagnon, R-Bemus Point, said he was pleased with the majority of departments operating within their budgets. However, Chagnon said he’s concerned with rising costs in the jail, Health and Human Services programs and assigned counsel.

“The cost of the jail isn’t something new, but we haven’t been able to get them within budget,” he said. “We’re making progress but we’re not there yet. Health and Human Services costs just continue to increase. We’ve made no progress. As for the costs of assigned counsel, the state Legislature got a proposal that would have solved that problem and the governor vetoed it. Hopefully they can come with a proposal to give us some relief there.”

All resolutions will go before the full County Legislature at next week’s meeting.