Franklin County legislators, sheriff open budget talks without ‘drama’ of last year

Franklin County Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill leads a community forum on opioid drugs in May 2018 at the Saranac Lake Free Library’s Cantwell Room. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

MALONE — The “drama” touched off last year when the Franklin County Legislature reduced appropriations in the sheriff’s department during the creation of the 2020 county budget was largely absent last week when members of the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee met with Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill to discuss the 2021 spending plan.

The county is facing a very difficult budget year as the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant shortfalls in projected revenues this year — a situation expected to continue into the next year. The county is also looking at cuts of up to 20% in state aid, as the state tries to address its own anticipated deficit of as much as $31 billion over the coming years.

“We’re trying to cut costs everywhere,” Legislature Chairman Don Dabiew, D-Bombay, told the sheriff as legislators went through his department’s budget line by line.

During last year’s budget preparations, Mulverhill and the Legislature clashed after legislators cut funding for two deputy positions from the county budget in response to an anticipated reduction in the jail population resulting from the state bail reform act that went into effect at the start of 2019. Mulverhill complained legislators had “ambushed” him with the decision and had not discussed it with him before announcing it. Legislators for their part said the sheriff had refused to meet with them despite several requests — a complaint Mulverhill disputed.

Thursday’s meeting, which took place via Zoom, allowed the two sides to discuss planned changes to the Sheriff’s Department budget.

“I don’t want the drama of last year,” said Legislator Andrea Dumas, R-Malone.

Although no firm decisions were made Thursday, legislators looked closely at the number of vehicles the Sheriff’s Department uses as one possible area of savings. Mulverhill defended his department’s vehicle fleet and said some of the vehicles now in use will have to be replaced, with at least one unable to pass the state safety inspection.

The department’s vehicle fleet had been another point of contention during last year’s controversy.

The sheriff also said the inventory county officials were referencing contains at least one vehicle the department does not physically have. Legislators said they would look into the discrepancy in the hope of being able to reduce the department’s insurance costs.

Mulverhill did agree with a county proposal to eliminate a home monitoring program created in response to the bail reform law. The program was intended to allow suspects awaiting trial to do so at home while wearing an electronic monitor, rather than sitting in the county jail.

The program at one point was keeping 24 potential inmates out of the jail, saving the county a significant amount of money, Mulverhill said. However, the courts have largely stopped using the program in recent months, so eliminating it — including a part-time position created to oversee it — makes financial sense, the sheriff said.

“The program just hasn’t been used,” he said.

Mulverhill also renewed his request for a pay increase, including $85,000 — $25,000 more than his current salary — in his budget request. During last year’s blow-up, the sheriff had complained the Legislature had repeatedly refused his request for a pay hike; legislators claimed Mulverhill had never spoken to them about one.

Mulverhill had included the pay increase in each of his budget submissions for several years but it was never included in the final budget.

Public Safety Committee Chair Lindy Ellis, D-Saranac Lake, explained that state law permits elected officials to receive pay increases only when they begin a new term in office. Mulverhill was elected to a third four-year term in 2018, his current term doesn’t end until Dec. 31, 2022.

“If that’s the process, so be it,” he said.

Several legislators praised Mulverhill for reducing the amount of overtime paid to deputies who work in the county jail.


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