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Published: Wednesday, 12/6/2006

Monroe County exec balancing budget

BY BENJAMIN ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - Charles Londo, Monroe County administrator and chief financial officer, will present a balanced budget proposal of $51.4 million to the county board of commissioners for adoption on Tuesday.

At least one county official, however, wants his allocation for the new year increased.

Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield, who leads the department that accounts for the county's largest expenditure, would like more funding to work with.

But Mr. Londo said the proposed $51.4 million is as high as the county can go.

"It's now a total balanced budget. We have a finite amount of resources that we can spend, and any other changes would have to come by cutting other resources," Mr. Londo said.

Sheriff Crutchfield said the roughly $19 million currently allocated for public safety - mostly to the sheriff's department - is about $250,000 shy of what is necessary for his department to function.

The sheriff said that while his department is discussing this "shortfall" with the board of commissioners, he may have to wait until the new board arrives in January.

Last year, a budget battle between the board of commissioners and the sheriff's office caused some friction when commissioners struggled to make up for a nearly $4 million projected 2005-2006 budgetary shortfall.

The sheriff's office, representing about 40 percent of the budget, was asked to cut about $1.5 million.

Sheriff Crutchfield eventually agreed to cut only $500,000 from his budget and eliminate one assistant jail administrator position and one secondary road patrol officer.

He said he believes next year's board, which has two new members - John S. Fowler of Albain, Mich., and Connie Velliquette of Temperance - would be more willing to provide the funds.

When Ms. Velliquette, whose son is county Detective Heath Velliquette, was running for commissioner, she said she wanted county commissioners to "stop micromanaging elected offices like the sheriff, the prosecutor, and the clerk.

"The sheriff is in charge of what's going on with his employees. The commissioners shouldn't have anything to do with it," she said.

The sheriff agrees and looks forward to working with the incoming board.

"My position is there is nothing that this county board can do that the new county board can't undo at the start of the next fiscal year," he said.

But Sheriff Crutchfield conceded that the proposed 2007 budget is better than last year's proposition.

"No cuts are predicted," Mr. Londo said.

He said that although county health care costs are up about 11 percent, retiree health costs are up about 50 percent, and pension costs are up about 30 percent from last year, his department was able to largely compensate for these increases through a change in state property taxes from December, 2005, to July, 2006, that generated $2.8 million for the county.

He said he made up the rest of the $4 million needed to balance the budget by making small cuts to other items throughout the budget.



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