Sheriff’s spending centers on salaries
Tue, 11/21/2023 - 1:50pm admin
New tax has added $1.6 million to budget
Amanda Mendez, Publisher
A full calendar year has passed since Howell County began collecting an additional quarter cent sales tax for law enforcement services. Voters passed the tax in April of 2022. Collections began in October 2022, and revenue started to hit the county’s books in December 2022.
This month, Howell County News sat down with the Howell County Sheriff’s Department to find out how they’re spending the additional $1.6 million the tax has funneled into their budget so far this year.
“Taking care of my people,” was Sheriff Brent Campbell’s immediate response when asked about his department’s increased spending. “I inherited salaries and a salary structure that didn’t make any sense…This place was eating itself….It’s about taking care of your people, paying them appropriately, and attracting the talent that will do the best for this county.”
The department’s current budget for salaries and benefits for 35 full-time personnel, thirteen part-time personnel, thirteen full-time administrative/jail personnel, and two part-time positions in administration/jail is $3.29 million. The employee budget alone accounts for $700,000 more than the department would have collected without the new tax revenue, according to figures provided by the county. Actual spending on salaries and benefits clocks in at $2.09 million so far this year.
Campbell’s Sherriff’s Department has undergone a complete rebranding. According to the “history” document published by his office, deputies now wear a green and tan uniform. The department’s badges and patches have been redesigned. The patrol vehicles, SWAT vehicle, and any other conveyances obtained by the department have been uniformly marked in black and white. Even the sign on the building is new, replaced in August 2022. The department now pays for these uniforms, for duty firearms, ballistic helmets, collar brass, and badges. According to Sheriff Campbell, all these changes signify a culture shift in his department.
“I’m constantly trying to push that vision,” he said. He hopes to create a law enforcement culture motivated by service to the community, and he hopes to foster a relationship with the community. He wants the citizens of Howell County to feel that the Sheriff’s Department is theirs.
“When I start hearing, ‘that’s MY sheriff’s department’ from the people, I know I’ve done my job,” he said.
With the new tax revenue, which he called, “a blessing like I cannot explain,” deputies have access to more than $500,000 worth of new and updated equipment purchased this year alone, such as portable and mobile radios, mobile computers, tasers, and in-office computers.
This improvement in the tools of the trade has invigorated morale, with deputies achieving measurable success, Sheriff Campbell says. The 101-page history document highlights numerous high-profile arrests for narcotics and violent crimes. It touts new programs like the Crisis Intervention Team and the introduction of multiple K-9 units.
In terms of spending, it is clear that Campbell’s vision for the department would not have been possible without the law enforcement tax increase. Without the additional tax, the department’s revenues were $880,000 from the county’s general revenue fund, and a one-quarter cent sales/use tax that has been in place for decades. Counted separately, these sources have raised $2.28 million so far this year. The department has spent $3.46 million. See Fig. 1 for a breakdown on spending and incomes compiled by Howell County News.
Grant income has added another $190,614 so far this year. Grant funds must be spent on their associated purposes. Funding from these sources is not guaranteed from year to year. Grants received in 2023 have been used for bulletproof vests, salary supplements, election security, and canine program costs. According to Sheriff Campbell, a grant for COVID mitigation in the amount of $329,070 is in the pipeline. This sum has not been distributed as of press time.
It is important to note that the department’s budget must also carry the expenses and maintenance for Howell County Jail. As previously reported by Howell County News, the conditions in the jail are bleak, likely beyond repair. In an interview, Sheriff Campbell says he is doing what he can with the funds he has available, and major expenditures into the jail facility at this point would be throwing money away.
Significant repairs and updates have been necessary, but many of the jail facility’s biggest problems cannot be resolved without new construction. Expenses related to prisoners and the jail facility are $60,248 so far this year, according to information from the county.
New revenue from the 2022 tax increase has added $1.66 million to the budget. Despite the increase, the department is not operating on a “balanced” budget – that is, one in which estimated tax revenues are planned to be spent in a 1:1 ratio. The difference between the revenue received so far this year and the expenditure is about $670,000, meaning the department is sitting on more than half a million dollars. Sheriff Campbell told Howell County News that he is being conservative with spending because tax revenue can be unpredictable. If revenue holds steady, he says this surplus could be the beginning of a capital improvement fund.