Magistrate advocates elimination of fee-pooling

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By Shannon Brock

An effort by Magistrate Jerry Davis to repeal the county’s fee-pooling ordinance failed 2-4 on first reading at Monday’s meeting of the Fiscal Court.
At the May 20 meeting, Davis asked for an ordinance to be drafted that would stop the Spencer County Clerk’s Office and the Spencer County Sheriff’s Office from fee-pooling. Such an ordinance would repeal Ordinance No. 14, Series 2011, which established the fee-pooling system and a purchase order system for the clerk’s office. Both systems for the sheriff’s department already existed at the time of the 2011 ordinance.
County Attorney Ruth Hollan presented the ordinance to Davis at the June 3 meeting, and Davis asked for it to be put on Monday night’s agenda.
Fee-pooling essentially means that those fee-based offices turn over their excess fees on a monthly basis and can have their offices supplemented by money from the Fiscal Court.
After a motion by Davis to repeal the fee-pooling and purchase order systems, seconded by Magistrate Mike Moody for purposes of discussion, Magistrate Woodie Cheek asked Judge-Executive Bill Karrer to point out the positives and negatives.
Through fee-pooling, Karrer said excess fees from the clerk’s and sheriff’s offices “come in to the county coffers and are distributed through the general fund.”
Karrer explained that many sheriff’s departments across the state fee-pool because “most sheriff’s departments won’t have enough fees to cover their expenses.”
However, Karrer said county clerks “typically collect more than they need to operate their office ... those excess fees come into the coffers quicker and you typically collect more.”
Karrer referenced problems the county has had in the past with former County Clerk Judy Puckett before the office fee-pooled.
“The former clerk owes the county seventy-thousand plus dollars and we’re struggling to recover that or take legal action to do it,” Karrer said.
Davis said the clerk’s office is not the same as it used to be.
“The county clerk can handle the finances there,” Davis said.
Davis said repealing the ordinance would be a chance to get spending under control, particularly with the sheriff’s office.
Davis says the Fiscal Court supplemented the sheriff’s office with $300,000 during the current budget year, and only expects that number to increase.
“I believe if the sheriff[‘s department] had to handle their own expenses, it wouldn’t be $300,000 or $500,000 [extra],” Davis said. “If we want to get the spending under control, this is what we have to do.”
Magistrate Hobert Judd reminded the court that when they came into office, deputies were using their own weapons and equipment, and that’s no longer the case.
“We will see it level off,” Judd said. “I believe we’ve reached that plateau.”
Karrer agreed.
“We’ve had a lot of catching up to do,” he said. “I do think those things will level off ... the sheriff’s department was not where it needed to be.”
“There’s nothing that will level off,” Davis countered, citing salaries that will likely increase and vehicles the court has discussed purchasing on a rotating basis.
“Plus, who knows what’s going to be on sale next year,” Davis said.
Moody suggested the item be tabled so magistrates could do more research, but he was informed that any action taken would not be official until a second reading, which will most likely occur at the July 1 meeting.
The motion failed 2-4 with Davis and Moody voting in favor and Karrer, Judd, Cheek and Magistrate David Goodlett voting against.
“That was your last hope for controlling spending,” Davis said.
Tuesday morning, Stump said his department would regress significantly if the court voted to repeal the fee-pooling ordinance.
“We would lose our full time detective, we would lose 24-hour patrol,” he said. “We would have to take away things from the citizens in Spencer County that all the citizens in the surrounding counties have.”

In other business:
•The court voted 4-2 to approve a recommended salary list for employees, which includes a 2 percent cost of living increase for most employees. Several employees will get a larger increase based on performance, incentives or longevity.
Davis made a motion to table the pay rate list until further information could be gathered; Moody seconded the motion. The motion failed by a tie vote with Davis, Moody and Judd voting yes and Goodlett, Karrer and Cheek voting no.
Cheek then made a motion to pass the pay rate list as recommended; Judd seconded the motion, which passed 4-2 with Moody and Davis voting against.
“Unreal,” Davis said, upset with the vote.
•The court approved a $34,836 bid for mobile data terminals for the sheriff’s and EMS departments. The county will be reimbursed 100 percent through a Homeland Security grant.
Davis voted against the bid, but was the lone magistrate to do so; the bid was approved by a 5-1 vote.