Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman sent an emergency request for funding this week to the New Orleans City Council, seeking to plug what he described as a budget shortfall of more than $3 million for the first quarter of 2016.
In a letter dated Wednesday, Gusman accused city leaders of shortchanging the Sheriff’s Office and hamstringing its efforts to implement court-ordered reforms at the Orleans Justice Center, the city’s new jail.
Gusman has been engaged in a long-running financial feud with Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, which under state law is required to pay for the jail’s operation.
The sheriff described his agency’s 2016 budget allocation from the city as “woefully inadequate” and warned that it would “unequivocally” result in deputies failing to meet the requirements of a consent decree Gusman signed with the federal government.
The difference between what the Sheriff’s Office needs and what it is getting “is vastly divergent,” the sheriff said. In fact, he said, he is due to get 21 percent less money from the city this year than last year, “all while the city has provided no evidence or reason for such a decrease.”
The city’s “mistaken calculations of the actual costs of operating the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office” led to the emergency request for $3 million “in order to satisfy OPSO’s quarterly expenses,” Gusman wrote.
The Sheriff’s Office contends that it will need more than $59 million from the city in 2016 to keep the lights on and improve conditions in the jail. But according to Gusman’s letter, the city’s allocation to the Sheriff’s Office amounts to less than $44 million.
Landrieu’s press secretary, Hayne Rainey, countered that the city “has more than doubled the sheriff’s annual operating budgeting for the jail to more than $60 million.”
The Sheriff’s Office, however, says it is expecting millions less in revenue than the city projects. For instance, Gusman wrote, his office is receiving less money than anticipated in state supplemental pay for deputies due to “recent attrition that has resulted in the loss of approximately 35 deputies.”
Gusman included a spreadsheet in his letter that shows his office will spend $12.1 million this year — rather than the $7.8 million projected by the city — on “other jail contracts” — an increase the sheriff attributed to “kitchen/warehouse maintenance on expiring warranties,” laundry and recruitment services, an “electricity increase” and a new accounting system.
The sheriff also pointed to recent changes imposed by the Federal Communications Commission that have affected the amount of money the Sheriff’s Office collects from inmate telephone calls.
“The attached financial calculations demonstrate that, by the end of March, OPSO will suffer a first quarter monetary shortfall of $3,017,375.68,” Gusman wrote.
Council members appeared to be digesting the numbers Thursday. “We are reviewing the sheriff’s latest request and will be consulting with the city attorney,” Councilwoman Susan Guidry said.
The letter followed several previous emergency funding requests Gusman has made of city leaders, including one in November that followed the opening of the new $150 million jail. The council granted that request after a lengthy meeting in which some council members questioned the sheriff’s ability to adhere to a budget.
For his part, the sheriff — a former city chief administrative officer and council Budget Committee chairman — has long accused City Hall of failing to dedicate enough money to improve conditions at the jail. In recent weeks, he has blamed a host of staffing issues on the city’s refusal to approve pay raises for deputies.
“The OPSO feels strongly that we will continue to lose qualified personnel as well as continue to have major difficulty recruiting and retaining qualified personnel as long as the city fails to properly fund the OPSO,” Gusman said last week.
A team of experts monitoring conditions at the jail recently urged the city and Sheriff’s Office to reach a compromise on funding issues
“There are more than 3,200 local jails in the United States, 80 percent of which are operated by an elected sheriff,” the experts wrote in a semiannual report on jail conditions in New Orleans. “While these organizations no doubt have funding and collaboration issues with their funding authorities, none have regressed to the level of dysfunction as in Orleans Parish.”
Meanwhile, city officials have renegotiated a controversial contract that Gusman awarded in 2014 to Correct Care Solutions, a company providing health care to New Orleans inmates.
City officials expect the new contract “could save as much as $9 million in taxpayer funds over the next three years,” said Rainey, the City Hall spokesman.
The initial contract included a fixed rate for health care, while the renegotiated deal allows for unexpected costs or savings to be split among the parties — meaning the price tag will decrease if the inmate population falls.
“As with all city-funded entities, we fully expect the sheriff to manage his budget in a responsible manner because New Orleans residents demand that their tax dollars be spent wisely,” Rainey said. “Every dollar spent at the jail is a dollar not spent making our streets safer, rebuilding our streets and infrastructure, creating new jobs and providing more opportunities for our kids.”
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