The Pierce County Council will use unexpected sales tax revenues to fill a gap in this year’s budget, including a shortfall at the county jail.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday night on a 2014 supplemental budget to cover a county jail deficit of $2.4 million. The proposal from county Executive Pat McCarthy already had received a favorable recommendation from the council’s Rules and Operations committee last week.
The jail, under the supervision of the Sheriff’s Department, is projected to overspend its 2014 budget by $1.9 million – $1.4 million of that due to overtime costs. The additional $500,000 shortfall resulted from lower-than-expected revenue, mostly from fewer offenders housed for the state Department of Corrections.
Nobody on the council commented on the proposal prior to Tuesday’s vote.
Paul Bocchi, budget analyst with the county, said the amendment would increase the jail budget by about 4 percent to cover increased costs within the corrections bureau. He said the revenue to cover the increase is already secured.
“We’ve brought in more sales tax than we originally budgeted for,” Bocchi said during the meeting.
During public comment, Kent Wales stressed the importance of fully funding the jail. He’s the dayshift representative of the Pierce County Corrections Guild.
“We support any effort to properly fund the jail,” he told the council. “This amendment to the budget will close the budget holes, for now.”
Wales added that the guild looks forward to working with the county for a long-term solution to ongoing budget problems related to corrections.
Deficits at the jail have caused the county financial strain and budget maneuvers in recent years.
Last year, the council laid off 16 corrections deputies to help fill a $5 million shortfall. That budget gap was caused in part by Tacoma and Lakewood sending their misdemeanor bookings to jails that charge lower rates.
For the 2015 budget year, the council has already approved hiring back eight corrections deputies while cutting the jail’s overtime budget by $742,000, to $1.8 million.
The scale of the overtime problem was illustrated in an analysis published by The News Tribune on Sunday that showed deputies at the county jail have racked up nearly 270,000 hours of overtime in five years. Some of them have nearly doubled their take-home pay with the additional shifts while also boosting their retirement benefits.
Other budgetary changes approved Tuesday as part of the 2014 supplemental budget include increases to the mental health fund, the South Sound 911 building lease fund, Chambers Creek Regional park fund, radio communications and the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
Officials noted that the changes are typical for the end of the year.
Dan Roach, chairman of the County Council, said after the meeting that he wishes the county didn’t have to do a supplemental budget, but there weren’t a lot of options.
“The bills have to be paid,” he said.