Sheriff, mayor $4 million apart on budget

Marion County Sheriff John Layton

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Marion County Sheriff John Layton says he needs $120,342,946 to run his office and the county jail next year.

Mayor Joe Hogsett is offering $115,883,113 instead.

Inside that $4.5 million gap is a debate about the way the sheriff spends money and runs his constitutionally mandated office as Layton, Hogsett and city-county councilors anxiously await an operational and financial audit to guide them.

“We’re absolutely sure they’re going to verify what we’ve said for years,” Colonel Louis Dezelan told the Council’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee while he defended the proposed 2019 MCSO budget.

That audit will be revealed in early December, two months after the full council will approve next year’s spending plan while considering Layton’s request for more money and Hogsett’s attempt to reign in suspected questionable management and runaway overtime costs.

During a budget hearing that focused almost totally on Marion County Jail expenses and ignored other aspects of the sheriff’s spending plan, this year’s $5 million in jail overtime costs and the lack of an aggressive strategy to stem the flood of red ink garnered significant attention.

Dezelan referred to low starting salaries for deputies and emergency dispatchers who often train at Marion County’s expense only to take that expertise to other well paying jobs in the public or private sector.

In the last year, inspired by close scrutiny of MCSO spending that was regularly rubber stamped during previous administrations, Layton’s staff has sought and received $714,000 in grants for various programs to fund trauma, addiction, substance abuse and mental health issues inside the jail.

Dezelan said Layton himself conceived of several job reclassifications that permitted lesser trained and lower paid employees to fill jobs previously performed by full deputies.

The work of unpaid reserve deputies has already saved the sheriffs office $550,000 in manpower costs this year, said Dezelan.

Chief Financial Officer Barb Lawrence said she was still searching for what she termed “the sweet spot” in raising salaries that would discourage staff turnover while reducing overtime costs.

The spending plan presentation made no mention of budgeted 2018 positions that remain unfilled, external costs such as patrol cars, the motorcycle drill team and warrant deputies and revenue streams such as the inmate commissary or phone system, all items that could be explored for additional savings or added funds to relieve the sheriff’s financial burden.

Dezelan said MCSO would continue to provide jail wagon transportation for offenders arrested by agencies throughout metro Indianapolis, though he indicated such service is not mandated by state constitution and Marion County is likely the only locale in Indiana where such service is provided.

The sheriff has often complained that the housing of low-level state inmates at the Marion County Jail has continually pushed his facility above its crisis population cap leaving few empty beds in Jail I, privately operated Jail II and the cells of the City-County Building.

Marion County typically houses 339 state inmates among its 2500 offender population at a cost of $47-82 a day while the Indiana Department of Correction reimburses the jail just $35 a day.

The sheriff has added iris scanners to better identify offenders by the characteristics of their eyes and will soon install full body scanners to search arrestees to reduce the amount of drugs being smuggled into the jail, which currently results in two overdoses per week according to Dezelan.

Lawrence said the renegotiation of food and medical care contracts as well as the agreement with Core Civic to run Jail II resulted in savings or at least the holding of the line on projected increases in operating costs.

Looking forward to construction of the new $570 million Community Justice Center, which would include a new sheriffs headquarters and jail, Dezelan said the inmate-to-deputy ratio would improve from 3:1 to 5:1 with all offenders under one roof as opposed to the current three separate locations.

He also said the planned 3000 bed jail, set to be opened in January of 2022, would be plotted on the E. Prospect St. site so that a future expansion to accommodate an additional 500 offenders would be possible.

The outside audit firm of KPMG, with expertise in examining the books of law enforcement, sheriffs and correctional facilities, was awarded the review of the MCSO budget and operations in June, nine months after Mayor Hogsett’s announcement, and its partial findings, along with the city and sheriff’s office participation in the process, fueled the competing 2019 spending proposals.

Controller Fady Qaddoura told the committee that the scope of the audit and a commitment to its complete review of MCSO spending and operations delayed the return of the expected full report until nearly the end of the year, less than a month before Layton steps down and a new sheriff will be sworn in.

The final report will consist of findings, recommendations and plans for implementation of new practices.