A runaway budget put the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office $950,000 in the red last year, with payroll costs accounting for much of the overrun, according to documents posted online Thursday by the Ramsey County Board.
The board at its Tuesday meeting plans to use about half the county’s $2 million general contingent account to cover the shortfall. But in a scathing memorandum to the County Board also released Thursday, County Manager Ryan O’Connor took aim at Sheriff Bob Fletcher for failing to rein in costs.
According to the memo, Fletcher’s office had at least nine months to correct cost overruns but didn’t take steps to do so, instead filling vacant positions to advance new areas of work the board had not authorized. No other Ramsey County department needed the board’s help this year to cover a deficit, O’Connor’s memo said.
In a statement released late Thursday, Chief Deputy Dave Metusalem said the sheriff’s budget was thrown off by hiring decisions made by Fletcher’s predecessor, Jack Serier, shortly before Fletcher took office in January 2019. Fletcher’s office then took steps to reduce the deficit to less than $650,000, Metusalem said.
The Sheriff’s Office had 33 full-time employees over budgeted levels when Fletcher took office, according to Metusalem, and was headed for a $2.3 million shortfall. Staffing since has been cut by 38 full-time positions, and the office has limited other expenditures while increasing revenue, he said — a “realignment [that] has balanced the budget for 2020.”
This year’s budget shortfall is the first for the Sheriff’s Office since 2014, according to county documents.
Fletcher battled with county managers last summer and fall over his payroll expenses. Board Chairman Jim McDonough and others accused the sheriff of hiring too many people and ignoring the board’s cost concerns.
O’Connor’s memo said the additional money for the Sheriff’s Office will block the board from addressing needs in areas like infrastructure, affordable housing, immigration and economic development.
O’Connor and Serier dispute Fletcher’s contention that the problems were caused by Serier’s hiring decisions. Both say that Serier spent only $56 million out of an approved budget of $58.6 million.
When it appeared last fall that Fletcher would overshoot his 2020 budget by about $2.5 million, O’Connor imposed financial restrictions on travel expenses, the use of purchasing cards, contracts under $10,000 and business expense reimbursements.
At the time, O’Connor said Fletcher’s office had added 35 jobs because it was hiring people faster than staffers were leaving or retiring. Those extra jobs pushed biweekly payroll costs from $1.1 million in late January to $1.26 million by early September.
New figures released Thursday show that the biweekly payroll started dropping sharply in early August 2019 and reached budgeted levels by the end of October. Most of the financial damage was done by then, with overspending on personnel costs in the first 10 months of 2019 being the primary driver of the deficit, officials said.
Figures also show that the Sheriff’s Office collected most of its revenue late in 2019. Revenues for the first half of the year were just 4% of the year’s total; some 60% of total revenue was collected in the final three months of the year. Four areas of revenue came in significantly higher than 2019 estimates, O’Connor noted, including cost reimbursements from cities that contract with the Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services, $443,000 above budget.
O’Connor’s memo also chided Fletcher for failing to participate in quarterly monitoring like other departments, and for questioning estimates from the finance department that proved accurate.