Supervisors delay $1.9 million to help defray sheriff’s office budget overrun

After voting to approve a $1.9 million allocation to help cover a nearly $3 million overrun in the budget for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, the Board of Supervisors backtracked Wednesday and decided to wait for a detailed fiscal analysis before making the payment.

At a March 12 meeting, the county Finance, Government Services and Operations Committee voted to recommend that supervisors approve an additional $1.9 million allocation to help close the funding gap. The money was needed to ensure that sheriff’s office employees would not miss paychecks before the end of the fiscal year.

The board initially followed the committee’s recommendation at its business meeting Wednesday. Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn), chairman of the finance committee, made the motion to sign off on the funds.

“The fact of it is that we do need to do an additional appropriation, whether we’re happy with the situation or uncomfortable with it,” Buona said. “We still need to make sure that our law enforcement personnel are getting their paychecks.”

Buona’s motion passed. But toward the end of the meeting, the vote came up for reconsideration after board members expressed concern about an opinion piece that Sheriff Mike Chapman had submitted to local news outlets.

Chapman wrote that overtime costs and mandated vacancies accounted for the vast majority of the budget overrun. The sheriff’s office is required to maintain 21 vacant positions, Chapman said, resulting in financial and operation failures and added overtime pay.

“The positions are held hostage,” Chapman wrote in his editorial. “Doing this makes the county (not the LCSO) appear as though it saved $1.9 million. In addition, we lose at least eight other positions naturally each year due to attrition, putting us at 29 actual deputy vacancies for the year so far.”

Those posts can’t be left open during a shift, Chapman said, so other deputies are often paid overtime to fill them.

Supervisors said they were less than pleased by Chapman’s editorial and thought that it was inconsistent with information presented to the March 12 meeting of the finance committee. Before the board first voted to approve the allocation, York asked Chapman to explain what he’d written.

“I thought it was important that the county at large understand the complexities involved with the way the budget is designed and determined, and I thought I needed to lay it out clearly,” Chapman said. “There was some confusion as to what our budget entailed, what we spent and how we spent it.”

Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) later proposed a motion to reconsider the additional funds in light of confusion over why and how the overrun occurred.

“Given the fact that there seems to be some disagreement between this letter and what was presented the other night, I think it would be prudent for us to at least wait until [Loudoun County Chief Financial Officer Ben Mays] has been able to come back with his evaluation,” Higgins said. “I would like to see that done before we allocate these moneys.”

Mays plans to present more information about the overrun at a finance committee meeting in early April, county staff members said.

Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) disagreed with Higgins and said the allocation should be made as soon as possible.

“The reasons why [the overrun] happened are something we need to spend a long time figuring out,” he said. “But we are going to have to provide the money regardless.”

Letourneau expressed concern that delaying the payment might make it difficult for the sheriff’s office to implement cost-saving measures proposed at the March 12 meeting. Letourneau added that he understood Higgins’s sentiment regarding the editorial. “I think the op-ed was not the wisest way to communicate some of these things,” he said.

County Administrator Tim Hemstreet said the delay in approving the allocation should not be allowed to affect the sheriff’s office operations.

“In my opinion, the two are not connected,” he said. “You’re not going to let deputies go unpaid.”

The overrun was first disclosed publicly by Buona at a March 7 budget work session. Buona announced that a review of financial records showed that the sheriff’s office was on track to exceed its budget by about $2.7 million.

That amount was lowered to $1.9 million after Chapman said the sheriff’s office had identified about $800,00 in operations and maintenance savings that could be applied to the overrun.

The board voted Wednesday to delay approving the $1.9 million appropriation until after Mays presents more detailed findings to the finance committee. Supervisors Shawn Williams (R- Broad Run) and Letourneau opposed the motion to postpone the allocation, and Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) was absent.

The full board is expected to address the allocation again at its second business meeting next month, officials said.

Caitlin Gibson covers Loudoun County for The Washington Post.
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