After last year's budget talks, the St. Mary's County commissioners and Sheriff David D. Zylak said they hoped this year would be different, less contentious.

Two months after the budget was passed, though, things didn't seem any better when Zylak (D) recently told the board members that promotions they had approved would cost about $38,000 more than they had budgeted.

Thomas F. McKay (R-At Large), president of the board, looked at the sheriff. "Have these promotions taken place already?"

"Yes, sir," Zylak said.

A long pause.

Then McKay said: "But there wasn't sufficient funding in place to do the promotions. Is that the problem?"

Zylak said he thought the promotions were to take place effective July 1 rather than on the anniversary of the day the deputies and corrections officers started work. And there were some other complexities to the calculations as pay rates were adjusted across the board, he said. "We have sufficient funding from vacancies at this time to cover this cost in implementing these promotions. I was acting in good faith," Zylak said.

Zylak had asked to create a new rank structure to help retain officers; he wanted to be able to promote about 60 officers. Just moments before the final budget was passed this spring, Commissioner Thomas A. Mattingly Sr. (D-Leonardtown) made a motion to fund promotions of 10 deputies and four corrections officers, which was approved.

At the meeting last week, Mattingly said quietly, "When I made the motion . . . at the very end of all the negotiations . . . I was working with numbers that came from your office. . . . My expectations at that time was that was adequate money to do that. . . . I'm a little disappointed to see you come back asking for additional money, quite frankly. . . . It bothers me."

As financial staff members explained the discrepancy to the commissioners, McKay glanced at the others but didn't say anything.

When the board members asked more questions, Zylak said, "Well, commissioners for obvious reasons throw the blame on me; I'm used to it." McKay laughed. But Zylak said: "It's not a laughing matter. I made the decision to promote these guys and gals on July 1. I think we should certainly honor that."

Finally, Commissioner Daniel H. Raley (D-Great Mills) moved to approve the request. "To not move forward with it would be a disservice to the deputies and the correction officers. We need to do it and do the next budget workshop differently so we have more communication with the sheriff. I think you made that comment yourself, Kenny," he said to Commissioner Kenny Dement (R-Callaway), who nodded.

In the end, the board unanimously approved the funding but with much head-shaking.

Zylak asked for a 20 percent increase in allocations for the department last winter; commissioners granted about 8 percent after months of back-and-forth.

After the budget passed this spring, Zylak said he was very disappointed with it and hoped the commissioners would agree to meet with him this year -- perhaps go on a retreat together -- to avoid such problems with the 2006 budget.

"I think that next year's budget process, I'm confident, will be much smoother as far as the sheriff's department is concerned," McKay said. But he doesn't agree that communications were terrible this year. "The reason [Zylak's] not happy with communications is he's not getting all the money he wanted."