Departments fight Columbus City Council for more money in budget - WRBL

Departments fight Columbus City Council for more money in 2014 budget

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In Tuesday's budget review session, the Columbus City Council heard why some departments want more money, but council members aren't eager to hand over the cash.

Judge Gil McBride and Sheriff John Darr both stood before council to explain why their 2014 budgets just aren't enough, but with the mayor's 1.5% cut from each department, council members are having a hard time finding extra money.

McBride was focused on getting $25,000 in raises for the three law clerks on staff. With a seventh judge position given to the city by the state, McBride says a new courtroom is also necessary, but that would cost $150,000.

Councilor Jerry "Pops" Barnes responded by saying the cupboard was bare and doesn't know where that money would come from. "I just don't think right now is a time for us to prudently invest this amount of money, not right now," he says. "We're actually bailing. The ship is filling up and we're bailing out."

Council also had lots of questions for Sheriff Darr's $2.3 million budget request.

"It's my job to basically say the importance of the Muscogee County Sheriff's Department," says Darr, "not saying that we're more important or less important than anybody, but we have a lot of responsibilities that is asked of us and in some instances is required of us constitutionally."

He says without those funds, he'll be forced to cut 59 corrections officers. "We do not have 2.36 to cut from operations, materials, cars, guns and stuff like that. We don't have that kind of money, so those cuts would have to come from personnel," he says.

Darr feels confident that he won't have to fire anyone, and he's also optimistic about the office's new Pretrial Release Program, which could save $1.5 million by monitoring defendants as they wait for trial instead of letting them sit in jail. "It can have short-term benefits by having less people in the jail costing tax payers money," he says, "and then potentially long-term in the fact that hopefully you won't have as many people in the county jail."

Council asked the sheriff and finance director Pam Hodge to take a closer look at the proposed budget to see where any other cuts could potentially be made. They'll reconvene in a week for another session.

The city is just shy of having 60 reserve days, which council members say is the bare minimum they're willing to allow.

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