Jefferson County

When Is a Cut Not a Cut? JeffCo and Sheriff Disagree

Jefferson County County Manager Cal Markert (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Jefferson County doesn’t see eye-to-eye with its sheriff concerning a recent budget change.

In a release Thursday, Sheriff Mark Pettway said the Jefferson County Commission had frozen 30% of the Sheriff’s Office Budget for fiscal year 2024. Pettway equated the action to “defund(ing) law enforcement.”

The public information officer of Jefferson County responded with its own release that said Pettway misstated the county’s action.

According to the county release, the commission requested a freeze of 30% of all funded existing job vacancies throughout the county system for fiscal 2024.

“As has been well documented throughout multiple industries, including local government, filling positions is challenging,” the county release read. “Tying up public funds by budgeting for positions that you are unlikely to fill within a fiscal year prevents us from using those funds to instead address operational or capital needs. The Jefferson County Commission believes that being realistic about the current labor market conditions and shifting these funds to work for our residents instead of leaving them idle is the most responsible decision.”

At the time the budget was adopted, the PIO said the sheriff’s office had 123 vacancies, a number that has steadily increased during the past several years. The department would have to fill 86 of those positions before running up against the frozen positions.

“The commission elected to invest in the recommended salary and cost of living increases for those 86 positions to significantly increase the probability of filling them, rather than continuing the current trend of increasing total vacancies,” the county release read.

“As the position freeze affected all county departments, the county manager’s office has also indicated that if hiring efforts exceed forecasts, and a business need exists, he is willing to work with departments to address those specific situations.”

This has no impact on operational expenses such as equipment, training and outreach, the county release said. The county said the commission “fully supports” public safety. Toward that end, the county release said, it funded a 10% pay increase across the board for sheriff’s deputies on fiscal 2024 and a 4.7% increase to the sheriff’s overall budget.

Speaking with media after Thursday’s commission meeting, County Manager Cal Markert said, “We didn’t delete positions. We didn’t unfund anything. We tried to find a way to get the 10% increase to all the deputies. There’s really no way we could fill all the positions we had budgeted anyway.”

Additionally, the commission allocated $3.5 million to fund renovation of the sheriff’s barracks for the training academy, in addition to the special $1.5 million allocation at the end of fiscal 2023 for a total additional investment of $5 million dollars.