Belle Treasurer Theresa Taylor reported March 9 the Maries County Sheriff’s Department Belle Division has only accumulated $25,986.56 of the $84,000 it projected in fine revenue for fiscal year …
Belle Treasurer Theresa Taylor reported March 9 the Maries County Sheriff’s Department Belle Division has only accumulated $25,986.56 of the $84,000 it projected in fine revenue for fiscal year 2020-21.
“I did print out the revenues for court fines for the year since it has been a year since the sheriff’s department took over and I thought everybody would like to see the revenues,” Taylor began. “This spreadsheet was created by Michelle (Jones, former treasurer). She started it when Joe (Turnbough) took over in ‘14.”
Taylor said spreadsheet showed fine revenues/expenses from the 2019-20 fiscal year under both City Marshal Joe Turnbough and the Maries County Sheriff’s Department Belle Division respectively.
Turnbough brought in $13,001 in fine revenue from July 1, 2019, to Jan. 31 2020. Since the sheriff’s patrol began the contract on Feb. 1, they finished the 2019-20 fiscal year through June 30 with $8,458 in fine revenue. The city closed the 2019-20 fiscal year with a $40,585 deficiency between income and expenses.
“The deficiency last fiscal year was mostly because we paid out the contract payment to Maries County while still paying out our own police department,” Taylor said.
She added that officers from the former Belle Police Department were released from duty at about the same time as the contract was implemented.
Taylor gave aldermen a copy of the printout that showed budgeted, actual, the difference between the two, and court fines that were brought in since Turnbough began as marshal in 2014 through Jan. 31, 2020. It continued through to when the department changed services to the Maries County Sheriff’s Department ran by Sheriff Chris Heitman.
Taylor gave a few ideas of where she thought the deficiency came from.
“The biggest reasons for that would probably be because we paid out our very first payment on the contract for Maries County Sheriff,” Taylor began. “I can’t tell you the true cause of the $40,000 deficiency.”
That wasn’t her main concern though.
“Court fines are my primary concern,” Taylor said. “That is the number that we were promised and now is putting us out of balance.”
Heitman verbally stated during contract negotiations that he thought his crew would bring in between $80,000 and $84,000 a year in court fines. From March 1, 2020, to Feb. 28, 2021, the Belle Division brought in $25,986.56 in court fines, compared to Turnbough’s total of $35,080.70 total in 2018-19.
Since the city’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30, Heitman and his crew were only responsible for four months of the 2019-20 fiscal year and the 2020-21 fiscal year is two-thirds of the way over.
According to the agreement with the sheriff’s department, the city will pay the county $155,558 a year for the two-year contract and receive half of the fine revenue. The city’s budget for contract, marshal’s salary and other services is $188,949. According to Taylor, the city’s actual expenses year-to-date are $244,535 and their actual income is $203,950. Court fines are included in the income.
Heitman said a big part of the discrepancy is the way the budget is made.
“They budgeted what we anticipated receiving in total ($84,834) for just themselves when it should only be half of that and failed to budget an expense where they pay us; therefore making it look like there is over an $80,000 deficiency in expenses,” Heitman said. “I can’t help poor budgeting and a pandemic. We are still providing an excellent service for the city and they are a lot more protected than they were a year ago.”
As for what may have caused the budget deficiency, Heitman had a few thoughts.
“The numbers that we predicted for court fines are off because we went three or four months with little contract or enforcement because deputies were told to act on only serious crimes, to limit the COVID spread,” Heitman said. “It was a statewide thing.”
He added that the sheriff’s department can only control the contracted amount of funds that the city agreed to pay, not the remaining expenses for the Belle Police Department or the marshal.
“They are receiving police services when before they were paying well over $200,000,” Heitman said. “I have no idea why their expenses are so high.”
Taylor said she wasn’t sure why a 50 percent fine-revenue payout was omitted from the budget expenses.
“You will have to ask this of the council,” she said. “If they were to put that number in, of course, it would show an instant deficit.”
Deputy Scott John said the numbers looked disturbing following the March 9 meeting.
“The thing is, the city only pays for the $188,949 under this contract,” John said. “Under the marshal, they would have had to pay the difference.”
Heitman said after the meeting, “We are set for next year, it just depends on operating costs, gas price increases, situations that are hard to predict. We want to try to offer services at the same cost that it costs the county. Gas prices reflect a lot of the budget. I don’t anticipate it going up much for the next contract cycle. I anticipate it going up a little bit every year.”
Heitman said he had expected his own department to run into the red a little bit the first year because of the additional equipment purchases, uniforms, and other needed items.
“My primary purpose of printing that off was to look at fine revenue fluctuations,” Taylor said. “That’s what I wanted the council to see and why I handed that to them. And Sheriff Heitman was there to answer questions.”
Mayor Steve Vogt was the first to point out the steady decrease in court fines from 2014 to the present.
“Over $98,000 (in 2014) down to $35,000 before Maries County took over,” Vogt said.
Alderman Sundi Jo Graham asked how far the city was behind on court fines currently or if they had caught up.
“I don’t understand your question,” Taylor said. “We are never going to be behind.”
Graham said she thought they were behind because of COVID and not holding court. Taylor said court has taken place now and they have collected fines.
“Maybe they just haven’t wrote as many tickets,” Taylor said. “COVID probably had a pretty good effect for a couple of months, I am sure. I don’t know how the officers handled having face-to-face contact with people after COVID became a crisis.”
John said that officers were ordered during the first four months of the COVID pandemic to limit contact by avoiding any traffic stops that were not absolutely necessary. They are still not stopping as many people as they would be previously.
“Based on the budget across the board, it seems our sales tax is up more than what was budgeted,” Vogt said.
John said the four officers that are rotated in Belle made 77 traffic stops in February and wrote 19 tickets.
“Our department is in the red too,” Heitman said. “But we knew with all the equipment purchases that we would be in the first year.”
As a court clerk, Taylor was unable to provide the number of citations written each month. The city counts the number of citations per month by how many are scheduled to show up in court.
“We go by court date and how many are on our docket for the court to see how many were in court for that month,” she said.
Taylor said she could name a few more discrepancies that would cause the city to be $40,585 in deficiency.
“In 2019-20, we were $20,000 below budgeted income, probably because of COVID and the economy shut down, but I am speculating,” She began. “But it is a large discrepancy in income.”
Also, a merchant surtax — rerouted from the Belle Volunteer Fire Department when it acquired tax-based funding to the Belle Police Department — was budgeted to bring in $12,000 and only bought in $4,000.
Furthermore, the contract’s payment, which is broken into four smaller payments of $38,889, went out when the sheriff’s contract was first signed, and again three months later.
“That is what threw our budget under the bus,” Taylor said. “I am going to be making council members more aware of the actual cost of things we need to look out for and things that need to be changed.”
She added that the three percent wage increase that was approved by the county is also given to Belle Division officers from the city, according to the contract.
“Now they all have raises, so the contract will increase to $161,000 (in 2021-22),” Taylor said.
Both Taylor and Heitman acknowledged that the fine revenues are still low for the year.
“Fine revenue is down because of covid but I anticipate getting into the projected numbers within the next budget period,” Heitman said.
Until then, Taylor adds that the city is in a $54,000 deficiency as of the end of February 2021.
“The largest discrepancy is the expectation of fine revenue,” Taylor said.