Sussex Building & Grounds budget ‘will fall short’ at end of fiscal year

Story By: Michael Campbell – News Editor

Even though the fiscal year doesn’t end for nearly seven months, county leaders are keeping a watchful eye on the current-year budget as they prepare to build the FY2018 budget in a few weeks.

County administrator Deborah Davis issued a warning to the board last month, advising them that a department’s budget will fall short by the end of the year.

The department she was referring to was Building and Grounds, which falls under Public Works of the county’s adopted FY2016 budget. According to documents provided by the county, “several expenditures have been made for items that were needed at the Judicial Center” and those items were not included in the current budget.

Davis added that county administration “had little choice but to authorize the invoices to be paid and charged to the Building and Grounds Budget,” citing that the items were “requested strongly” by judges at the courthouse and the Sussex Sheriff’s Office.

A series of invoices dated between May through Aug. of this year detail the extra costs Sussex incurred.

A walk-through metal detector was purchased for the courthouse to replace a unit that needed to be retired from use for a total of $4,972 in May of 2016. In July, the county incurred a $218 bill as they sought services from Convergent Technologies Group for a “Paxton Door Control Survey [of the] Courthouse,” with officials from UpTimeSolutions discussing connectivity between the Sheriff’s Office and Courthouse.

That next month, an invoice from UpTimeSolutions showed a number of items were purchased for courthouse security improvements totaling $6,330.26. The invoice is also has a note that states, “This was done at the direction of the judges.”

Additionally, an Aug. invoice from Hopewell’s Carraway Glass shows $2,115 was spent on a new glass partition in the General District Court Clerk’s Office, with an additional $1,050 in outside labor costs.

In total, those items cost the county $14,798.11.

During the board’s recent meeting, Treasurer Onnie Woodruff explained that the courts building falls under the Building and Grounds budget, adding that the Public Works department does a lot of the work to ensure that the building is maintained.

Woodruff added that the county spends “a lot more money on security and maintenance than we get from the courts.” The treasurer did advise supervisors that these expenditures are likely going to force the department’s budget to go into the red.

According to the FY2017 adopted budget, the Public Works department has a total budget of just over $1 million. Within that, Building and Grounds has a majority of that allocated amount at $548,322.

During last month’s meeting, Woodruff remarked that “the board [of supervisors] cut the [Public Works] budget right before it was adopted.”

In a memo dated Sept. 23, 2016, Davis explained to Sheriff Raymond Bell that the “Courthouse Security and/or Maintenance” fees that are collected are actually used to cover salaries of officers stationed in the building during occupancy and related costs, such as FICA tax and insurance.

Over the past three fiscal years, courthouse security fees have fallen short of budgeted amounts with only $154,000 in fees coming in during FY2016, short of the $160,000 budgeted, and $158,898 in fees in FY2015, well below the $180,000 budgeted by the county.

Additionally, Davis’ memo notes there is “no expenditure line item for courthouse maintenance, repairs, etc.” During FY 15/16, Davis explained, “a Courthouse Maintenance Fee Revenue line item was created and $25,000 was placed in that category.”

In the current budget, $35,000 has been placed into that line item, but as of the writing of the memo in September, “a total of $4,747 has been collected.”

While supervisors understood the necessity of the purchases, some questioned if the county got the best price for the services, including Henry District supervisor Rufus Tyler.

When asked, Davis explained that the Sheriff’s Office got quotes on the metal detectors, but she couldn’t speak to the other items, such as the rekeying of the building and the glasswork.

“The sheriff is sometimes in an awkward position when the judge says ‘X, Y, Z,’” Davis remarked.

It was recommended that the board of supervisors move $14,798.11, the total cost of the unexpected, but required, improvements from the Contingency Fund to the Building and Grounds budget, which, according to the adopted budget, totals $291,430, an increase of $159,000 over the previous fiscal year.

While supervisors did not take action on that item, Stony Creek supervisor and chairman Keith Blowe asked his fellow supervisors to “not get amnesia” when the Public Works department in the event that they have to return to the board for an additional appropriation before the end of the fiscal year in June.

Copyright 2016 Womack Publications