Six sheriff’s positions are due to be laid off Dec. 31 after the county cut funding to them, Sheriff Tony DeMeo said last week.
That comes despite the passage of a half-cent sales tax increase by county commissioners Oct. 1.
DeMeo has complained lately he’s being kept out of the loop on budget decisions, but he was especially ticked off at the Oct. 1 commissioner’s meeting when the county video conferencing system kept going out, interrupting transmissions from the Tonopah meeting to the commissioner’s chambers in Pahrump.
Nye County Comptroller Susan Paprocki was reporting the sheriff’s department again was the only department running over budget. With 21 percent of the budget year elapsed by the time of her Sept. 19 report, the sheriff’s department is operating at 102 percent of its budget so far this year, the comptroller’s report said. At that rate, the sheriff”s office budget would end up at $12.88 million by June 30, 2014 instead of the budgeted $12.66 million.
DeMeo was puzzled his department is over budget already, even though he has 10 open positions.
“We’re at 13 percent of our budget. Then I find out that miraculously some county commissioners decided they’re going to reorganize the sheriff’s department without my permission. Then I find out after a meeting with the county manager you pulled six positions,” DeMeo told the commission two weeks ago.
County commissioners last May passed a 2013-14 fiscal year budget that projected a $888,343 deficit in the general fund by the end of the year June 30, 2014. The plan was for the county manager to attempt to make cuts through a reorganization. Last May, Paprocki said the county should know by the middle of the fiscal year, Jan. 1, whether staff reductions or spending freezes are needed. The county is already electing to wait until a departing employee’s accrued sick leave and vacation time expires before filling positions.
“When we filled those positions we were told there was money in the budget for those positions,” DeMeo told the Pahrump Valley Times. “They unfunded them. Now I found out that effective at the end of December the positions are eliminated. They did this without any knowledge of myself.”
“Let me ask the question: Who is in charge?” DeMeo asked. “I would like to know who the hell I am answering to so I can make the determination how to best operate the public safety agency for the county.”
“They didn’t want to mention the positions that they’re eliminating because they didn’t want to cause widespread fear and panic,” he said, without mentioning the source of that quote.
Relations between the sheriff and county commissioners sank to a new low last November when commissioners voted to ask the Nevada Attorney General’s Office to investigate the sheriff for criminal charges for overspending his budget $1.2 million in the 2011-12 fiscal year. In June, the AG’s office said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to show DeMeo knowingly intended to spend more money than had been allocated.
In making allegations about decisions being made behind closed doors, DeMeo told commissioners, “It may be my turn to go to the AG’s office.”
“I kept my mouth shut to allow the attorney general to do an investigation without any grandstanding. But I am keeping my lawyer engaged. I don’t know what’s going on,” the sheriff said afterwards.
DeMeo urged commissioners to contact him in the future about budget issues. The sheriff told the PVT he has 41 years law enforcement experience, is the longest serving elected public official in Nye County aside from County Clerk Sam Merlino and was elected by the voters three times.
County Manager Pam Webster said she couldn’t comment on DeMeo’s accusations.
The sheriff listened in Pahrump last week as Assistant Sheriff Rick Marshall was in Tonopah giving an explanation for some of the budget increases in the department, while the video conferencing system was going on and off. DeMeo said, “this conversation should be postponed until I can respond properly.”
Marshall told commissioners, “I don’t know if all the overtime has hit the books yet. We have had some unexpected overtime with hospital watches and inmates who have chosen to ingest items that put them in the hospital and required officers to be there in Las Vegas. The Pahrump hospital is not able to handle the surgeries that were needed.”
The desperate attempts to get released from jail is a strategy known among inmates, as the sheriff’s department lacks the deputies to supervise a hospitalized inmate.
That requires an hour and a half to two hour drive each way, Marshall said, though there is an option to contract with Las Vegas Metro to guard the inmates at the hospital at their overtime rate. The sheriff’s department tries to send out reserves, or offer the assignment to lower paid deputies who have the option of taking overtime or comp time, he said.
“What we first try to do is we look at what the charges the prisoners are in on. Then we’ll contact the judge to see if they can be released on their own recognizance. Then we’ll contact the district attorney’s office to see what help they can give us on getting the inmate released,” Marshall said. “If ultimately the inmate cannot be released for any reasons, it could be the charges, they could be waiting on a psychological evaluation, danger to the community, ultimately they’ll end up in the Las Vegas or the Pahrump Valley hospital.”
Paprocki said the county in general was dealing with higher than expected workman’s compensation costs. Other departments have bust the budget but that’s because of one-time expenditures at the start of the year, she said.