This is my third guest column on Walla Walla County government. Today’s focus is on funding for the Sheriff’s Office and informing taxpayers how the Sheriff’s Office revenue is generated and spent.
The Sheriff’s Office has several main sources of revenue: (1) Law and Justice Sales Taxes, (2) Tax/ licensing fees and grant revenue,(3) fees for service, and (4) current expense funds.
Current expense is the term used by the county for general funds.
Law and Justice funds are generated by a 0.3 percent sales tax assessment that was put into place in 1999. This sales tax is expected to generate $2.45 million for 2019. This revenue is intended for all departments that assist with law and justice services for the county including the Clerk’s Office, Court Services, Corrections, Coroner’s Office, Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Court Security, Superior Court and the Sheriff’s Office. Over $1.4 million of this revenue source (58 percent) is allocated to the Sheriff’s Office with the remaining 42 percent allocated to the other departments.
Tax, licensing fees and grant revenue are relatively small portions of the Sheriff’s Office revenue making up about 1 percent of funds.
Fees for service are derived primarily through (1) incorporated cities in Walla Walla County that do not have a police force contracting with the Sheriff’s Office (Waitsburg, Prescott), (2) Sex Offender Monitoring through the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and (3) civil fees.
The rest of the revenue for the Sheriff’s Office comes from the Walla Walla County current expense fund. The projected revenue for the current expense fund is $13.8 million for 2019.
Of that $13.8 million, over $2.3 million goes to the Sheriff’s budget (17 percent). The remaining $11.5 million must be allocated over the remaining departments in the county budget including Corrections (county jail), Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Community Development, Waste Management, Emergency Management, Juvenile Justice Center, Auditor’s Office, Treasurer’s Office, Community Health, Fairgrounds, Mill Creek Flood Control, Noxious Weed Board, Vehicle Licensing, Superior Court, Emergency Medical Services, Elections, Human Resources/Risk Management, Technology Services, Assessor’s Office, Agriculturist, Board of Equalization, Civil Service Commission, Clerk’s Office, Commissioners, Facilities Maintenance, Coroner’s Office, District Court, Horticultural Pest/Disease Board, LEOFF 1 (retired Law Enforcement Officers and Firefighters), Indigent Legal Services and the Law Library, not to mention multiple funds to repair and replace county owned buildings. No other county department gets more current expense money than the amount the Sheriff’s Office budget gets (second is Corrections at $2 million, and third is the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office at $1.2 million).
Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said “Do not tell me what you value, show me your budget and I will tell you what you value.”
Commissioners in the past and present have shown they value the efforts and contributions of the Sheriff’s Office to our community by the allocation of resources to that department. For 2019, a total of over $4.1 million dollars is budgeted to the Sheriff’s Office.
The expense side of the Sheriff’s Office budget is relatively straightforward as shown on the 2019 pie chart. Summarizing, over 83 percent of the Sheriff’s Office budget is spent on salaries and benefits, 12 percent on vehicles, with the remaining 5 percent going to training, dues and office expenses.
Deputies in Walla Walla County earned an average salary of $74,982 in 2018, while sergeants earned an average salary of $93,951. Their benefit package (union contract) is better than any other county employee’s.
In addition to their salary, deputies and sergeants get 100 percent of their medical insurance and 75 percent of their spouse and dependent’s health insurance paid for by the county. Average salaries include the opportunity to make additional money for SWAT team membership, fitness, education, field training officer, detective and K-9 handler.
In 2018, there were 24 deputies funded in the budget for the Sheriff’s Office. During budget discussions for 2019, it was determined that the Law and Justice Sales Tax fund was the appropriate place to fund one additional needed deputy, increasing the total to 25. Adding a deputy is not a small budget item. An added deputy costs approximately $145,000 the first year and $90,000 per year moving forward. It is more expensive the first year due to (1) the need to purchase an additional car since each deputy gets his/her own car, and (2) police academy costs and additional training. Continuing expenses include wages, benefits, training and car expenses.
Since I began serving as a commissioner, I have had numerous taxpayers approach me concerned that the Sheriff’s Office had not had increases to their budget for the past several years. Historical budget figures do not support that assertion and they are as follows.
2016: $3.67 million
2017: $3.76 million (2.4 percent increase over 2016)
2018: $3.94 million (4.3 percent increase over 2017)
2019: $4,13 million (4.8 percent increase over 2018)
Before 2016, the Sheriff’s Office and Corrections Department (County Jail) budgets were comingled, which makes those years not directly comparable.
Todd Kimball is chairman of the Board of County Commissioners. He can be reached at email@example.com