Pushing back against budget cuts and saying he needs more money to keep the peace during the upcoming trial of Derek Chauvin, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher filed notices with the Ramsey County Board asking for nearly $3.6 million.
Fletcher, who sued the board in December over ongoing budget disputes, said the anticipated civil unrest, along with his desire to see budget corrections and amendments to rectify austerity cuts the county made last year, should compel the board to act now.
"Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) and civil unrest, the Sheriff's Office is not able to manage these costs while experiencing increased service demands," Fletcher wrote in one of three letters he filed Monday.
Fletcher's arguments will sound familiar to board members because the county already rejected many of them in past negotiations.
In his letters this week, Fletcher restates arguments that are now part of the lawsuit. He also asks for $1.6 million to cover civil unrest — nearly three times the amount he unsuccessfully requested Nov. 30 for the same reason. Fletcher also took a new, more aggressive posture on cuts he had previously agreed to meet, saying he cannot perform legally required duties while also taking a cut to personnel. That's a change since Nov. 30, when Chief Deputy Dave Metusalem wrote in a letter to County Manager Ryan O'Connor that the Sheriff's Office would work in earnest to meet the cost savings.
In all, the county took a $1,175,000 cut for the sheriff's 2021 budget, or about 2.4%. The cuts were made up of $745,000 in personnel costs and $430,000 in line items.
Ramsey County Board Chairwoman Toni Carter said she could not comment on Fletcher's latest requests, citing the pending lawsuit. The matter was referred to mediation on Feb. 5. It's scheduled for trial on May 5.
In the suit, Fletcher said he couldn't afford the cuts, and added that he was struggling with $822,789 of "structural imbalances" in salary issues, including differential and premium pay, retirement contributions and merit increases. The lawsuit seeks some $2 million in total.
But the county has already rejected Fletcher's "structural imbalance" argument, saying that his office is to blame for the shortfall.
"Sheriff's Office budgets have a recurring pattern of overspending in personnel line items, cost savings found in non-personnel line items and collecting more revenue than is included in the budget," wrote Ramsey County Chief Financial Officer Alex Kotze in a Dec. 11 letter to Metusalem. Kotze concluded the letter by saying the county considers the problem resolved.
Fletcher's largest ask is for $1.6 million to cover civil unrest, an argument that assumes street protests and mass gatherings will require overtime and extra staffing for the Sheriff's Office.
Fletcher said his office already accrued $300,000 in costs in January, but did not specify which incident or incidents his office responded to. And Fletcher anticipates another $1.3 million in costs during the trials of four former Minneapolis police officers accused in the death of George Floyd. Those trials are expected to begin next month.
This is the second time Fletcher has used the Floyd case to ask for extra money. Last fall, he told the board he needed $550,000 for the trials, but Kotze said in written correspondence to the sheriff that the county already has reserves set aside to cover things like responding to civil unrest, and Fletcher was turned down.
In an e-mail to board members Monday, Fletcher said he submitted the supplemental budget requests for board action on March 9. Carter said the board chair sets the agenda and, as of Wednesday, Fletcher's requests were not on it.
Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329