Ocean City Today
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Sheriff, county at odds over spending in fiscal ‘19 budget

Mason a no-show during presentation, evaluation
By Brian Gilliland | May 10, 2018
Photo by: File photo Sheriff Reggie Mason

(May 11, 2018) As evidenced during the Sheriff’s Office budget presentation last month by Chief Deputy Doug Dods and comments made Tuesday by County Administrator Harold Higgins tensions between Sheriff Reggie Mason and the commissioners are at an all-time high.

“The sheriff is an elected state official, and this is a budget process,” Higgins said during the county commissioners’ budget evaluation session. “We can ask for transactions and details on underlying expenditures,” Higgins said. “We’ve not had the best relationship with the sheriff, and we’re using our ability to go into detail and question.”

Mason is retiring at the end of this term, on Jan. 1, 2019. His replacement, however, will be de facto elected during the June 26 primary, as only Republican candidates have filed for office. The new sheriff will have to abide by the budget Dods said he and two other deputies developed.

The office asked for five new deputies, a request that the commissioners trimmed to two deputies and one school resource officer. The department also requested new vehicles, option packages for those vehicles to outfit them to serve as law enforcement cruisers, uniforms and equipment for those new deputies.

The commissioners asked Budget Manager Kathy Whited for a dollar total from the revisions, but she said she would need time to produce the figure.

Along with the vehicles, the department also requested that all of the new Chevy Tahoes be 4x4, instead of 4x2.

“Because of one snowstorm?” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic wondered. “I have a problem with Tahoes anyway, but asking for them all to be 4x4 adds insult to injury.”

Commissioner Bud Church said he thought the request was reasonable.

“State Police are still buying Impalas and have to wear everything the Sheriff’s deputies do,” Mitrecic said.

The commissioners approved purchasing the nine new vehicles, with five being 4x4s, the rest will be standard 4x2s.

Also in the matter of vehicles, the commissioners and Higgins briefly discussed discovering the Sheriff’s Office has purchased a motorcycle using seized drug funds, yet didn’t advise the county of the purchase, even though Worcester would have to maintain it.

“It’s almost like the sheriff’s slush fund,” Mitrecic said. “We need Maureen [Howarth, county attorney] to look into this and get a better handle on it. Hopefully the new sheriff will be more understanding of our concerns.”

The Sheriff’s Office has begun to provide accounting for purchases using civil forfeiture funds, and a year-end report is expected by the start of the next fiscal year on July 1, or shortly thereafter.

Vehicles weren’t the only concerns, as commissioner Ted Elder had a problem with adding too many new personnel.

“We keep hiring and hiring and hiring and I see we have problems with [retirement funding] and we keep adding problems. The sheriff has 120 people under him, unless there’s some kind of invasion I don’t think he needs more. The overtime is certainly out of sight,” he said.

According to last year’s adopted budget, the sheriff oversees 99.4 full-time equivalent positions from deputies, to support staff, court bailiffs and the animal control department. Dods requested to increase that to 104.7 in this budget.

Also during the presentation last month, Dods asked to more than double the overtime line item in the budget to $553,220 to reflect the actual spending more accurately, rather than the $256,000 that had been budgeted.

Last year, the office spent more than $500,000 on overtime. This year, the budgeted amount increased from about $256,000 to about $321,000 — but the department spent more than that in fiscal years 2016, 2017 and 2018.

 

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