October 7, 2010 in City

Richard, Knezovich spar over budgeting

Sheriff’s Office cuts exacerbate tension with county
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Mielke points

to revenue drop

Commissioner Todd Mielke said the fundamental problem is that the county general fund has lost more than $15 million in revenue over the past two years, from approximately $155 million to about $138 million.

“The public has asked us to live within our means,” Mielke said.

With the sheriff’s law enforcement budget at $13.7 million this year, not counting contracts for municipal police service, “there is no way that somebody can take that kind of a reduction and not touch the criminal justice system,” Mielke said.

“There are not enough other programs that the county does to absorb that kind of reduction,” Mielke said. “That’s the challenge that we all face.”

A 2  ½-hour Sheriff’s Office budget meeting Tuesday produced more heat than light.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and County Commission Chairman Mark Richard each accused the other of “insulting” comments.

Little progress was apparent as county commissioners and sheriff’s officials reviewed a 2011 “target” budget that would require about $322,000 in cuts – on top of the loss of a $731,000 “Band-Aid.”

Richard, who has worked closely with Knezovich on plans for a new jail, was offended by what he said were public comments in which the sheriff accused commissioners of shortchanging law enforcement.

The two men sparred over how to assign percentages to cuts in this year’s budget and those pending for next year.

“You’re saying the same thing,” Chief Executive Officer Marshall Farnell told them.

The undisputed fact was that commissioners broke standard policy and allowed Knezovich to roll $731,000 in unspent money from his 2009 budget to alleviate reductions in his current budget.

Knezovich’s complained that the Band-Aid merely shifted his pain to next year’s budget, when an eight-officer grant will expire and no more carry-over money will be available.

“We could have not done that (rollover),” Farnell said.

“I thought that was a good thing,” Richard said.

“It was a good thing,” Knezovich said.

“So why am I getting hammered for it?” Richard demanded.

Knezovich protested that he “saved that money,” but Richard said other departments also underspent their 2009 budgets and none of them got to keep the savings.

“We said, ‘No, we can’t afford it,’ ” Richard said. “But we did it with you because you’re a priority, so to hear that somehow you think that you’re not a priority in our mind is insulting.”

Knezovich countered that Richard’s remark was “insulting.” The bottom line, he said, is that he will lose seven positions that were spared this year, plus five more.

“My rollover is being cut out of my budget this year,” Knezovich said.

“Correct, unless we address some of it,” Richard said.

Richard said he is willing to consider drawing down the county’s reserves to mitigate the Sheriff’s Office cuts.

However, Richard said, he found it “very difficult … to continue to step forward to try to solve these problems when what I’m hearing in the community is that either you or your staff don’t think the board knows how to prioritize a budget.”


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