Changing law good response to lame duck sheriff damage
Scooping up the low-hanging fruit is easy. But new Bossier Parish Sheriff Julian Whittington will need to get a lot more ambitious if he is to promote long term cures for what ails the department.
Elected last fall to succeed a retiring Larry Deen, as parish executive offices work in Louisiana, Whittington had to wait over half a year to assume his new post. In the interim, Deen doled out some hefty promotions and pay raises that took a deteriorating fiscal condition born of spendthrift ways and pushed it into deficit spending.
For over a decade, Deen had been ramping up expenditures with an ever-increasing size of his agency as it performed more peripheral functions or others that should have been left to other law enforcement agencies, while its performance stagnated or declined. Eventually, revenues calculated at constant property tax levels weren’t enough so in 2010 he raised collections by announcing a roll forward of millages (sheriffs are the only unitary authority of all local governments so, unlike with other units, they may do this unilaterally).
The public outcry that resulted may have hastened Deen into retirement, but apparently not without one last poke in the public’s eyes when he handed out the raises, some quite substantial to high-ranking pals in the department – “high ranking pals” by definition because sheriffs have the broadest at-will hiring and firing authority of any local official in the state. So at least for several months favored Deen personnel enjoyed this boost, while adding insult to injury a presumed payroll tax computation error made the department several hundred thousand dollars short on federal taxes regardless of this largesse, negating raises for the vast majority of the department to compensate.
One of the first things Whittington did upon assuming office at the beginning of July was to reconfigure all of this, taking effect this week, that features some rather significant demotions and salary decreases connected to that. Let’s hope that in his zeal to reward his allies in the department that he didn’t neglect to put capable people into positions with compensation that fairly matches their contributions.
Meanwhile, the roughly quarter-million dollars out the door in added salary will become a gift that keeps on giving from taxpayers. If any of the 22 beneficiaries retires in the next couple of years, that extra if temporary bump will inflate their state pensions, already currently underfunded meaning the agency will experience higher costs, which translates into either or both of reduced services and/or higher taxes to make up the difference. Without these raises, in fact the agency would have had a balanced budget for the past fiscal year instead of a deficit close to $1 million.
In the bigger picture, this event that shows what a lame duck sheriff may wreak in the nearly eight months between election results and leaving office begs for reevaluation of R.S. 13:5538, which sets that inauguration date of Jul. 1 the next year after the election. More specifically to the health of the BPSD, this calls for Whittington noting reality and adjusting to it accordingly.
While Bossier Parish was one of the 100 fastest growing counties in the country in housing units from 2000-10, unfortunately sheriff’s department expenditures increased even faster, so unless the rate of growth unlikely accelerates even more, future deficits may be hard to avoid absent spending reductions. And as the state tries to move away from inefficient incarceration practices, the cash cow of the Bossier Parish Correctional System will not produce as much revenue, putting an even greater strain on the budget.
Whittington does not need to act like Deen and unilaterally hike property tax takings from the citizenry. Instead, he needs to study not just pay levels, as he said he did to determine the changes he made, but overall staffing, particularly given the number of peripheral functions run out of the office and especially that human resources costs are about 80 percent of the budget.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 11:05