After having previously requested new cruisers from the county without success, Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera has in recent weeks transferred thousands of dollars from other sheriff’s office accounts to fund the purchase of three new patrol cruisers.
Since October, the Highland County Board of Commissioners has approved resolutions to transfer within the sheriff’s budget: in October, $45,000 from employee salary to equipment; on Nov. 9, $45,000 from employee salary to equipment; and on Nov. 23, $45,000 from contracts and services to equipment, $5,000 from employee salary to training and $20,000 from budget and supplies to equipment.
According to Barrera, when turning in his office’s budget request about this time last year he had budgeted employee salaries in anticipation of hiring more deputies. On Tuesday, he said that didn’t happen due to the amount of money the county has had to funnel into the costs of caring for the county’s foster children. He said he didn’t want to hire someone and then have to let them go because of the county’s budget constraints.
The costs of caring for the county’s foster children have risen exponentially in recent years due to the increased number of foster children, coupled with a lack of foster homes in the county. Last year, an additional nearly $1 million was needed to cover the costs above what the current levy brings in annually, which is about $520,000. The costs for this year are on track to be about the same as last year. A 1.9-mill property tax levy to offset those costs was voted down on Nov. 8.
Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley said his office has two vouchers, each in the amount of $31, 849, which will purchase two 2017 Dodge Ram pickups that are four-wheel drive. Barrera said on Wednesday that a third model of the same vehicle will also be purchased.
Barrera said that even though the trucks are manufactured especially for law enforcement and come with handy features for the job, an additional amount of approximately $5,000 per vehicle will be used to finish outfitting them as patrol cruisers.
As far as the other money transferred within his office’s accounts, Barrera said the $5,000 was for mandatory training for dispatchers, and the $20,000 will go toward a nearly $25,000 upgrade of the 9-1-1 system.
He said he thought that purchasing the vehicles with his office’s unused funds was fiscally responsible and something that would save the county money.
Barrera previously told commissioners that out of the five “spare vehicles” the sheriff’s office had, four have broken down, and the remaining vehicle has more than 250,000 miles on it.
A cruiser with more than 100,000 miles on it recently donated from Fayette County is currently in use, he said.
During their weekly meeting Wednesday, commissioners approved a motion to proceed with refinancing the remaining balance of the Justice Center at a lower interest rate.
The county currently pays 2.62 percent interest, but it can refinance the remaining $1.83 million at 1.9 percent interest.
The Highland County Board of Commissioners meets each Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. on the second floor of the county administration building, 119 Governor Foraker Pl., Hillsboro. The meetings are open to the public.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.