Public safety has always been the Putnam County Legislature’s first priority, but faced with unexpected overtime costs and budget manipulations by the County Sheriff’s Department, the Legislature took a stand to protect taxpayers.
In its December meeting, the Legislature voted overwhelmingly against a last-minute Sheriff’s Department request to transfer $121,115.11 in funds to cover overtime for the road patrol. The money requested had been allocated during the 2019 budget process to cover Sheriff’s Department expenses in 40 different spending categories, not for overtime.
“Public safety is our top priority,” Legislature Chairman Joseph Castellano said. “There has certainly been an increase in overtime and we don’t know why it is going higher and higher every year. We definitely need to have a better conversation with the Sheriff’s Department about that. Moving money from 40 different budget lines to cover a portion of this overtime is concerning to me, and it should be to all of us.”
The Sheriff’s deputies who worked the overtime have been paid but, in a nearly unanimous vote, the Legislature expressed its displeasure at the Sheriff’s Department’s budget maneuvers. Only Legislator Nancy Montgomery voted in favor of the transfer.
“No elected official can exceed the budget expense line without consequences,” Legislator Neal Sullivan, who couldn’t attend the meeting, wrote in a statement Castellano read. “The practice of transferring funds from one line to another should be used solely for extenuating circumstances. The systemic use of transferring money to cover overtime has become a major concern. Policies and procedures need to be put in place so we can work together to make sure we are not continually dealing with this.”
The discussion came up as part of an end-of-year budget reconciliation.
“This is not a public safety issue, this is a respect for taxpayers’ issue,” Legislator Paul Jonke said. “We gave him the parameters within which he needed to work.”
Legislator Ginny Nacerino said it was time for the Sheriff’s Department to take a more realistic approach to budgeting.
“It is our job to be good stewards of taxpayer money, and I take that job very seriously,” Nacerino said. “This transfer is not openly transparent. It begs the question of why in the twelfth month of this year there is so much left in these lines and whether these 40 lines were overinflated. We can’t operate like this. It is not best practice.”
“This really boils down to proper planning,” Legislator Carl Albano said. “We should have an idea where the budget is going and it should be in the ballpark. Surprises at the end of the year shouldn’t go down like this.”
“I’m not in favor of moving money around to cover road patrol overtime that has already been incurred,” Legislator Amy Sayegh said. “When we approve the budget for books and postage and furniture it should be used for those purposes and not overinflated to pay for something else down the road. It is understood that we need to pay the deputies for the work they performed and they deserve to be paid. What I have a problem with is deficit scheduling.”
“Moving forward we need policy and procedure to improve the process,” Legislator Toni Addonizio said. “We need more transparency and openness moving forward.”