Sheriff John Darr has help addressing budget woes - WRBL

Sheriff John Darr has help addressing budget woes

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COLUMBUS, Ga. -

Two months after the city learned that the Muscogee County jail had more than $900,000 in unpaid medical bills, Sheriff John Darr is scheduled to speak before council about solutions for the future. Mayor Teresa Tomlinson has helped the sheriff with some suggestions of her own.

The sheriff exceeded his office's budget by more than $2 million last fiscal year, and he's had overages for five years in a row. Now he's re-examining some of his practices.

Mayor Tomlinson says, "He's certainly an expert law enforcement guy; he's been with the sheriff's office for a very long time and knows that mission well. Budgetary management issues are a different thing."

Among the first changes in the sheriff's office for fiscal year 2014? Hire an accountant.

"If you're not keeping current invoices, you really have no idea where you are in your budget," says the mayor, "and I think that's been one management challenges for the sheriff's department."

Along with the financial advisor for the office, Sheriff Darr has privatized healthcare for the Muscogee County jail clinic, a move that will help cut overtime costs and excessive trips to the emergency room.

The mayor says overtime is one of the major issues in the sheriff's office as well with more than $1 million in payout last year.

The sheriff has agreed to pay the overages from his own jail reserve fund, however, saving the city from having to use five reserve days. Mayor Tomlinson says, "It's just hardly fair to say that one department, the sheriff's department, has overspent its budget by $2 million therefore we have to lay off people in Public Works."

The mayor isn't looking solely to the sheriff's office for changes. One idea has a copy of all invoices now being sent to the Finance Department so they aren't surprised with late bills.

"The fact of the matter is we're all serving taxpayers," says the mayor. "The Finance Department is a supportive service of those independent elected officials, and they have to have some sort of information in order to fulfill their duty."

At Tuesday's meeting the sheriff will present the changes in practices and answer questions from council members. The mayor says she's confident next year won't be a problem.

Jessi Mitchell

Jessi joined the WRBL news team in October 2012 after working as a freelance production assistant for MTV Networks in Los Angeles.
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