Nobody can accuse the Hennepin County Board of not taking its budget authority seriously.
The seven commissioners spent 30 minutes Thursday in spirited debate over a proposed $1.9 million reduction in the 2019 budget for the Sheriff's Office. In the end, they agreed to cut the same amount out of the budget, but spread out the reduction among the Sheriff's Office, the County Attorney's Office and the Community Corrections Department.
The board voted on the measure in preparation for its meeting Tuesday, when it is expected to finalize the county's overall $829 million budget and approve a 5.2 percent property tax levy increase.
Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who last month lost his re-election bid, had proposed taking the entire $1.9 million cut out of the Sheriff's Office. That proposal rankled Sheriff Rich Stanek, who is also leaving office after losing at the polls, and who said McLaughlin's cuts would prevent him for hiring 17 new sworn deputies and hamper efforts to diversify the department.
The $1.3 million cut in the sheriff's budget, offered in an amendment by Commissioner Marion Greene, will come out of a projected decrease in jail overtime pay and personnel costs. The remaining $600,000 in cuts will be split between the County Attorney's Office and Community Corrections under an amendment by Board Chairwoman Jan Callison.
Sheriff-elect Dave Hutchinson said he had hoped the board would hold off on any additional budget cuts until after he had been in office for a while. He said the reductions will make it tougher to keep some of his campaign promises on issues such as immigration and mental health.
McLaughlin had proposed the Sheriff's Office reductions because of cost-saving measures outlined in a recent jail population study. He said the board was leaving money on the table by approving only about two-thirds of the cuts.
But Callison said she wanted to use the savings to help bring down the tax levy and spread some of that burden among other county agencies.
McLaughlin's amendment was part of the commissioner's end-of-year supplemental budget requests, a practice that Commissioner Jeff Johnson criticized during the meeting. While he said he appreciated McLaughlin's effort to reduce spending, he added that "this process of late amendments is so wrong and is careless with constituents' money."
Johnson, a Republican who lost his race for governor last month to Tim Walz, was the only commissioner who didn't submit an amendment and who voted against all the others. Known as the board's fiscal conservative, Johnson joked that this would be first time he had ever voted against a funding cut. "It's about commissioners getting through pet projects," he said. "You could scale back in all departments, but public safety would be on the bottom of my list [for cuts]."
Mark Thompson, assistant county administrator for public safety, also said he was uncomfortable with the budget reduction.
Other budget amendments approved this week by the board include $720,000 for the Joint Community Policing Partnership; $100,000 for the Bridge for Youth teen parenting program; $59,000 for the Cedar Riverside Opportunity Center; and $55,000 for the Ka Joog East African Youth at Work program.