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St. Lawrence County sheriff’s budget includes cuts

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County legislators have approved a 2014 budget for the Sheriff’s Department that some lawmakers fear will not cover costs.

“I’m a bit concerned with some of the numbers that are in there,” Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, said. “I had some concerns we’re under-budgeting some accounts.”

Overall, the Sheriff Department’s budget of $10.6 million is lower than this year’s modified figure of $11.7 million, but some of that is due to a county-wide accounting change that transfers the cost of retiree health insurance to the Treasurer’s Office.

Sheriff Kevin M. Wells said his projections for next year are tight because the county is trying to keep spending down.

“I need personnel and I need vehicles, but all in all, I understand their concerns,” he said.

Legislators were distressed earlier this year when they had to transfer money to the department because of overcrowding at the jail, which could happen again, along with corresponding increases for medical costs and food.

The department is cutting costs where it can. The cost of food and supplies for the jail in 2012 was $333,000. Even with this year’s inmate population growth, costs for food through this year are projected at $297,000 as inmates are being forced to buy more goods from the commissary with their own money.

“We’re getting lots of inmate grievances but we just deal with that,” Sheriff Wells said.

The county is considering the restart of electronic home monitoring for some defendants who would otherwise be jailed. The county would not be responsible for the medical costs of those on electronic home monitoring as it is for inmates.

“That could be a great help to you,” Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, said.

Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, had asked Sheriff Wells to shave $75,000 from his 2014 budget toward an overall reduction of $1.5 million he is seeking for next year.

Sheriff Wells ended up suggesting $36,000 in cuts that were approved by legislators. Some of the cuts might be replaced with money from drug seizures and grants, he said.

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