St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain’s term ends June 30, the day before the budget he approved last week for the coming fiscal year is set to take effect. But even as Strain touted the agency’s “very secure” financial position, his successor, Randy Smith, reiterated plans for an exhaustive financial review as soon as he takes office.
Strain’s budget calls for nearly $44 million in general fund spending, which covers law enforcement and administrative functions; about $22 million in jail fund expenditures, to operate the jail; and nearly $760,000 in the commissary fund, which is used for jail maintenance and for inmates.
The proposed budget will leave the agency in exemplary financial shape, Strain said.
Smith, who defeated Strain in a runoff in the fall, said Friday that he has retained an outside firm to conduct a full audit of the agency’s assets and spending.
Smith doesn’t suspect wrongdoing, but he wants to “start with an absolutely clean slate,” spokesman James Hartman said.
The audit will likely review payroll, financial statements, internal controls and all the assets that belong to the Sheriff’s Office. “It’s a massive amount of inventory to be accounted for,” Hartman said.
Smith attended the public hearing Strain held on next year’s budget, but he said then that he planned to start a wholesale review as soon as he takes office.
All department heads have been asked to submit budget requests, including detailed justifications and goals, for review in early July, Smith said.
Strain said the office’s three main accounts — the general fund, the jail fund and the commissary fund — all have healthy reserves, which he attributed to “decades of sound management and fiscally responsible budgeting.” He has been sheriff for 20 years.
The general fund has a projected balance of about $14 million for fiscal year 2016, and Strain is projecting an increase in that balance to $15 million in 2017. He’s also anticipating an increase in the commissary fund balance, from $606,022 in 2016 to $802,209 in 2017.
The jail fund’s projected 2016 balance is $2.7 million, and that is likely to remain flat in 2017, he said.
Strain seems determined to send the message that he is turning over the office in good financial shape. He also released the results of a salary study done by S.S.A. Consultants of Baton Rouge, which he commissioned in October. He said it shows the Sheriff’s Office offers competitive salary and benefits packages.
The starting pay is $34,800 for a patrol deputy and $27,504 for a corrections officer, Strain said in a news release, which included a chart comparing the Sheriff’s Office to the New Orleans, Slidell, Mandeville and Covington police departments and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Starting pay for patrol deputies was higher than in any of the other north shore law enforcement agencies, although less than in New Orleans or Jefferson Parish.
“I am extremely proud of the efforts we have made over the past 20 years to keep our deputies among the highest-paid in their respective fields,” Strain said.
During the election campaign last fall, two of his opponents, Smith and Scott Illing, said they thought deputies needed a raise.
Smith said the agency is losing deputies to other jurisdictions, and Illing said a raise of 10 to 12 percent is needed.