'Lawbreakers' to fund Miss. sheriff's firing range

Deosto County budget allows for new training facility, raises for officers

By Henry Bailey
The Commercial Appeal

HERNANDO, Miss. — At a wide-ranging meeting Monday, DeSoto supervisors heard early budget scenarios linking employee raises with millage shifts and departmental cuts, and approved crafting a lease deal for a sheriff's department firing range in Marshall County.

The board also agreed to hire DeSoto County's first public information officer.

County Administrator Michael Garriga cautioned Monday that his preview for the 2013 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 was based on preliminary estimates, but the county's starting point was "strong" with fiscal 2012 surpluses of $16.1 million in the general fund, $16.5 million in the bridge account and $7.2 million in the road fund.

Forecasted revenues in the $42 million range remain "flat" and pose shortfalls ranging from $2.5 million to $3 million against expenditures. But the option of shifting millage from funds with surpluses, plus trims, can absorb new costs and take on 2013 priorities - including possible raises, he said.

"This is a good problem to have," said Garriga. He noted the county recently paid for a new phone system "with an interfund transfer" from a state-mandated "one-mill" surplus account that still has $4.5 million available.

Jail operations are pegged at $1.7 million more for 22 jailers, four nurses and utility costs at the new, expanded facility. As to pay hikes for county workers, which would be the first in three years, 3 percent would add $855,000; 4 percent, $1.1 million; and 5 percent, $1.425 million.

"There's a lot of money that can come back into the general fund," said Garriga. "We have challenges, but we have solutions too." Funding to "external" agencies can be trimmed, utility savings of $373,000 annually under a Siemens retrofit can be tapped, while a 3 percent across-the-board cut in general expenditures alone would yield $1.27 million.

The board approved sending a letter to workers asking them for cost-cutting ideas by July 1 - with a possible raise as the incentive.

Taking aim at budget concerns, Sheriff Bill Rasco said "lawbreakers," not taxpayers, would pay for a firing range with "seizure" money.

"Our department needs its own training facility and firing range," said Rasco, who presented the proposal to lease for the 3 1/2 -year balance of his term the former SCG International site on a 65-acre tract in Holly Springs. He said SCG defaulted on its financial obligations, and the property owner offered it to DeSoto for lease at $2,000 a month, he said.

Using DeSoto instructors to teach classes for other agencies for a fee, "the range can be financially self-sufficient and sustain a budget at no extra cost," said Rasco.

"It's got everything we need," said Rasco, noting four separate ranges, moving targets, a 5,000-square-foot "shoot house" and classroom building with office space.

"It sounds like a good deal and it's not far over there," said Supervisor Jessie Medlin of Olive Branch, president of the five-member board. The vote was unanimous.

Supervisors Lee Caldwell of Nesbit and Mark Caldwell of Southaven, who looked into county information needs, recommended the board approve "a position dedicated to serve as a key contact for disseminating information and promoting" county programs, services and events.

"Given the magnitude of a county budget of $110 million annually and an employee population of 650, it is imperative communication is enhanced and is strengthened," the two supervisors said in describing a professional position in the $32,000-$50,000 range.

The vote was 3-2 to advertise for the post . Supervisor Harvey Lee of Hernando joined Caldwell and Gardner in favor; Bill Russell of Walls said he didn't want "someone else speaking for me," while Medlin cited added costs.

Copyright 2012 The Commercial Appeal, Inc.

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