CEDAR CITY – It appears many of the departments and elected offices in Iron County will be experiencing a cut in their budgets this year but the 2017 tentative budget shows none of the cuts are as high as the sheriff’s office.
The County Commission is slated to hold its first budget hearing Monday at 10 a.m. where the public is invited to comment on the upcoming tentative budget for 2017.
The county lost around $235,000 in revenue in 2016 due to less traffic tickets being handed out by the sheriff’s deputies.
The shortfall came after Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower cut his traffic department from two deputies down to one this year, a move Lt. Del Schlosser argues they had to make following a $422,000 cut to the 2016 budget.
Gower was not available for comment.
The cut was later reduced to around $240,000 after the commission approved the purchase of two more vehicles in the summer.
The commission plans to hit the sheriff’s budget again this year by approximately $182,000. The money is largely coming from the fixed assets fund where the commission took around $130,000 and proposed allocating only $27,000. The fund is specifically earmarked to purchase new equipment and vehicles.
The cuts are the largest financial hit the sheriff’s office has had in nearly 19 years, Schlosser said.
In years past, Gower has received between five to six vehicles a year. This year that number dropped to four.
After the sheriff’s office purchased the four new vehicles, two more vehicles came out of evidence in October, giving the sheriff’s office a total of six new vehicles for the year, a number the commission warned would reduce this year’s new fleet down to two.
According to Schlosser however, $27,000 isn’t enough to purchase even one vehicle.
The lieutenant said he believes the move is in retaliation for the ongoing issues between the sheriff and the commission after commissioners dissolved the ambulance service in 2015 resulting in a reduction in force that included former sheriff’s Lt. Jody Edwards.
At that time, Gower took the side of his deputy in a court battle that took nearly a year and ultimately vindicated Edwards, who was awarded his job and same salary but quit shortly thereafter to make an unsuccessful run for a commission seat.
The bad relations between the two parties were again exacerbated this year, Schlosser said, when the sheriff and his attorney Scott Burns demanded an investigation by the state Attorney General into allegations that then-Commissioner Dave Miller and Commissioners Dale Brinkerhoff and Alma Adams accessed his emails in 2015 without Gower’s knowledge or permission. At the time, Edwards and the county were enveloped in court proceedings.
All three commissioners adamantly deny the accusation.
In addition, Schlosser believes the commission is angry about the loss of the $235,000 traffic revenue. He argues the sheriff is constitutionally not required to collect money for the county, adding that their budget does not receive any of the funds therefore should not be punished when it’s not collected.
“It’s essentially saying if we don’t collect money for the county we’ll be punished financially, and that is unconstitutional,” Schlosser said. “It’s setting up a precedent that makes it so the sheriff has an incentive to collect traffic revenue or else his budget will get cut. That’s absolutely unconstitutional.”
Commissioner Dale Brinkerhoff denied any retaliation on the part of the commission and said the commissioners plan to review the sheriff’s budget again in July.
“We will look at it again at that time and determine whether we’re going to make any changes then,” Brinkerhoff said.
Interim Commissioner Casey Anderson said he believes the legislature should change the law making it so traffic revenue goes into a state fund rather than back into the county. Anderson said he spoke with Gower who he said agreed with him. However, Schlosser was not aware of the conversation.
Regardless, Schlosser argues the county has the funds to purchase the vehicles, pointing to about $26 million in the rainy day fund.
According to Brinkerhoff, much of that money is already earmarked for other projects and expenses including the remodeling of the Parowan Court House and paying down the debt service.
An independent audit report conducted by HintonBurdick CPAs and Advisors showed the county still has approximately $14.4 million in the rainy day fund even after subtracting the dedicated funds.
The rest of it, Brinkerhoff said, is saved in case of another “Great Recession” in which the commissioners are concerned the county may need the funds to run the government.
“We’re (the commissioners) concerned about the future economy,” Brinkerhoff said, “and want to make sure the county has enough money stocked away to be able to continue to function.”
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