Sheriff: Budget shortfall is attributed to J Pod closure

January 16, 2019

JUNEAU -- Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt said the Dodge County Board of Supervisors’ decision to shutter J Pod caused his department to see a $490,000 budget shortfall.

“We didn’t have the ability to cut costs in a manner that would’ve kept us in the black,” Schmidt told Dodge County Finance Committee members Tuesday morning. “We cut our expenditures by just over $150,000, but we could not overcome that revenue loss.”

Schmidt said when he approached the Dodge County Board of Supervisors he urged them to wait and possibly close J Pod in February or March rather than the end of December.

J Pod is located at 141 N. Main St. It is formerly known as the old Dodge County Jail. It was constructed in the late-1950s, but the Dodge County Board of Supervisors authorized renovations over the years to expand its capacity to the 108 beds available to house work release inmates and probation holds.

The building has long outlived its usefulness and maintenance costs and safety concerns for county employees and inmates continued to mount.

“Had the Dodge County Board of Supervisors pushed the closing of J Pod into the first few months of this new year we could’ve prepared a little better for the ramp down,” Schmidt said. “Right now, we could’ve been doing the ramp down, anticipated the loss in revenues and planned for it.”

Schmidt said J Pod was closed Dec. 17, 2018, two weeks earlier than anticipated.

“If it were still open now we could have planned a lot more and there would not have been a shortfall for 2018,” he said. “It’s unfair to cut significant revenues from the already approved budget and expect the same levels of service and not anticipate some kind of a shortfall.”

He said the shortfall caused his office to lose monies associated with housing federal prisoners, which also includes transportation funding.

“If we would’ve continued on track (with J Pod being open) we would’ve had a budget surplus by the end of the year,” he said.

Schmidt said the “big hit” to revenues began last October until J Pod was eventually closed in December. He said to simplify the numbers associated with the federal prisoners is complex.

The prices on a prisoner’s bed is different if the individual is a federal inmate or a state DOC prisoner or a probation or parole hold.

“It’s just not one number we are dealing with here,” he said. “It’s hard to extrapolate the numbers because there is so much involved with them.”

Finance Committee member David Guckenberger, who also sits on the Dodge County Board, questioned the shortfall and the lack of information surrounding it.

“We need a lot more information,” he said. “The county board was about $4,000 over budget. It was likely caused by board members attending more meetings to learn about items they will vote on later. We’re paying board members to be more knowledgeable.”

Guckenberger said if there is a problem with those additional costs it can be examined more closely. He said board members can’t do the same with the sheriff’s budget shortfall.

“We had no information today concerning a half million dollar deficit except for a short presentation by the sheriff and one slide we were shown,” he said. “If we’re looking for a solution we need more information. Is it revenues or expenditures or a combination of both? If it’s expenditures why are we not monitoring this?”

Guckenberger said the Dodge County Board of Supervisors made the decision to close J Pod in July.

“He (Sheriff Dale Schmidt) had six months to put a plan in place,” Guckenberger said. “He was asked if he had a plan and he didn’t have one but now we are looking at a half million dollar deficit. I realize some of our expenses won’t go away, but we simply need more information to understand what went wrong here. Without the numbers in front of me I can’t draw a conclusion. Without the data this is all anecdotal.”

Finance committee member Ed Benter agreed.

“I know this is not a popular thing to say, but in the past, when the sheriff’s department had $1 million we heard all about how much money they had and they came in and said, ‘Where can we spend this?’” said Benter, who also serves on the Dodge County Board. “Why don’t we do the reverse now? If they are $490,000 short let them find a place to recover it.”

Schmidt said he didn’t make the decision to be in the red.

“That was a decision made by the board,” Schmidt said.

Dodge County Administrator James Mielke said the problem is not with funding.

“From the general fund as a whole, Human Services is looking at a significant return from 2018,” Mielke said. “That will far exceed this estimate. Other departments will certainly have carry-forward dollars and other dollars that will be returned.”

Mielke said the issue was brought before the Dodge County Finance Committee for its input.

The committee will also have February to review the issue and then it will go before the full county board next month.

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