This coming Nov. 6 election will see a three-way contested race for Tompkins County Sheriff. Incumbent Ken Lansing will be running on the Independence line, former undersheriff Derek Osborne will be running as a Democrat after winning the September primary, and former Ithaca Times reporter Josh Brokaw will be running on the Truthsayers line. In order to learn more about each candidate and where they stand on pressing local issues, Tompkins Weekly will be running columns from each candidate for the next three weeks. For this week’s columns, the candidates were asked to answer the question: If elected, what would your budget look like?
If elected, the budget would remain “status quo”. We are given a yearly “fiscal target” which is composed of a variety of economical and county factors. This fiscal target is adjusted according to the changing economy, contract negotiations, and program additions. That being said, we will continue to work within our operating budget across each of our functional units. We are responsible for 5 functional units; Civil/Records, Road Patrol, C.I.N.T., Corrections, and Medical/Board out unit.
Over the past 8 years, we have been able to establish a regular equipment replacement schedule, increase jail programs, take on additional community based trainings and coverage, lead and participate in multiple homicide investigations, and maintain the staffing requirements on the road and in corrections. These staffing requirements have been maintained while dealing with employees out for injuries and regularly scheduled time off. Additionally, during this time the Road Patrol reached a contract settlement with the county that resulted in adjusted salaries.
We pride ourselves on not taking away service from the community. We do not ever want to turn anyone away.
The below graph is designed to explain the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office budget broken down by bottom line figures. When building a budget, the whole picture becomes the important part.
These figures represent the “rollover” or unspent funds from each of the functional units we maintain. When a department saves or has additional revenue that is brought in, the department gets to use it in a separate year.
The Civil/Road Patrol units underwent a “budgetary reorganization” to reflect realistic budgeting; which resulted in a deficit during 2013. Additionally, unforeseen circumstances such as employee absence due to injury/disability and critical incidents created the shortage as well. This deficit prevented the Sheriff’s Office from having unspent funds and resulted in a negative balance. That being said, the deficit was dealt with according to the County fiscal process, which takes the following years savings and applies it to the negative balance from the previous year.
As for the Jail/Medical units, the Sheriff’s Office has had increased savings as time has passed. The Jail and Medical functional units are typically unpredictable because we never know what special requirements might need to be met for the safety and health of an incarcerated individual. Luckily, we have had minimal conflicts in regards to health concerns in the past few years. Any funds that are saved in these functional units are not kept for “rollover” use, but given back to the County; as it is a mandated cost.
When developing a budget, we set up a team effort to build and seek to meet the needs of the community and the department, whether that is through allotting more money to program supplies for outreach or funds toward departmental equipment to maintain staff safety. We have a very close working relationship with County Administration and the Legislature when discussing budget. They provide vital feedback that sometimes allows us to move forward and other times gives us more to think about and reevaluate.
Last year, the Tompkins County Shared Services study of public opinion identified “fiscal responsibility” as a taxpayer priority. I share that opinion as a taxpayer myself—and I have made it a major theme in my campaign for Tompkins County Sheriff.
As a former undersheriff for this county, I have years of administrative experience within that office. I have the knowledge and experience needed to control costs while ensuring the best service possible.
Overtime expenditures are the best indicator of whether the budget for the Sheriff’s Office is being properly managed. In 2011, my first year as Undersheriff, I reduced overtime by nearly $108,000. I reduced it by an additional $37,500 in 2012, and overtime remained at historic lows all four years I was Undersheriff.
Soon after I retired in 2015, overtime expenses started running so high that the county legislature had to intervene. In asking the legislature for more money, my opponent’s team admitted that when it came to overtime, they “weren’t even looking in that direction.”
Questioned about this during a recent Tompkins Weekly interview, my opponent responded that overtime, “was difficult, if not impossible to predict, making it hard to budget precisely for.”
But the sheriff must manage overtime. Failure to do so creates a constant drain on the budget, even when times are relatively stable. Controlling those costs saves financial resources for times when there are truly unpredictable events, such as big snowstorms or multiple accidents in one day or night.Many decisions led to the current level of overspending. Here is just one: During my time as undersheriff, the top jail official retired. She had a lieutenant position underneath her. I approached the county legislature with a recommendation to combine the chief and lieutenant position and create a new captain position. This allowed us to replace two administrative positions with one for huge savings in salaries, enabling us to promote a corporal to sergeant and create a new, desperately needed correction officer position. This was all done without adding one dollar to the budget. Even better, the new captain position mirrored the road patrol side that was also led by a captain.
After my departure, my opponent did the exact opposite. When the road patrol captain retired, he replaced that position with a new, lower-ranking lieutenant. The captain position was historically non-union and salaried, paying about $82,000 per year. The lieutenant rank is a union position and eligible for overtime. Although the lieutenant’s regular-time wages were lower than the captain’s salary, the lieutenant put in enough overtime to earn $120,000 in 2016 and 2017, for an extra $76,000 in just two years.
In short, you and I—the taxpayers—supported a lower-ranking position at a much higher cost, with no noticeable increase in services. We’ll go on paying more for a lifetime, with the elevated pension allowance that will inevitably result. And unlike snowstorms and accidents, all of this was entirely predictable.
You have a clear choice when you vote for sheriff on Nov. 6: Myself, the candidate with the experience and foresight to identify waste and a record of preventing it, or the candidate who wasn’t even looking in that direction.
As the “outsider” candidate asking for your vote for Tompkins County sheriff this Nov. 6, I don’t have easy access to specific funds spent by the Sheriff’s Office year after year.
Even municipal budgets, which might look complex to the first-time viewer, have line items that are as general as “Professional Services” and “Other Supplies.”
So, a full analysis of where money can be saved and where we might better spend our money is a thought exercise for me, for now. The hard policy decisions will have to wait until after Jan. 1. That said, here are a few ideas I’ve had during this campaign that could save taxpayer money and increase public health and safety. If you have ideas or feedback, feel free to contact me at 607-339-6788 or email@example.com.
Can we reduce vehicle maintenance and gasoline costs by reducing travel and idling time?The Sheriff’s road patrol budget calls for over $124,000 in maintenance and gasoline costs in the 2019 budget. The Corrections budget includes another $75,000 on that line. Maybe there’s a good reason that local police idle their vehicles when they’re not moving. If there’s not, those engines don’t need to be running. The Sheriff’s Office has also maintained a satellite station, in Newfield, in the past: could we put stations around the county where patrol officers could be based, putting them closer to calls and requiring less driving back and forth to headquarters on Warren Road? These stations wouldn’t have to be fancy, just functional; think retrofitted shipping container or semi trailer on slivers of roadside land. These mini-stations could also serve as a safe place where people could meet to make exchanges, whether that’s of children moving between parents or completing online sales.
Can we expand the “community outreach” worker model countywide?The downtown community outreach program has been a success in its three years of existence. People who are down and out call the community worker when in need of help navigating services, but she’s only available 9 a.m. - 5 pm. Monday to Friday. The key to this program’s success is that the worker is available to people for small crises and assistance, which can keep people from having big crises. Can we find money in the sheriff’s office, mental health, and other department budgets to provide several of these workers so people who need help have it available 24/7?
Who is getting paid for services at the jail?Jailhouse phone systems are notoriously expensive. The county shouldn’t be in the business of helping private companies profit off our citizens. Investigating what companies are making how much off services provided to inmates will be one of my first tasks as your sheriff.
Accelerated de-escalation training for officers.My proposed platform, available at truthsayers.org, calls for de-escalation training for all officers. New York doesn’t require this training; we need to make sure our officers know the art of resolving a conflict without resorting to force too quickly.
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