Analysis finds sheriff’s department underfunded, facing big overtime cost jump

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office is not funded adequately to complete its designated functions without changing how it does business and implementing budget efficiencies, according to the preliminary results of an audit conducted for the city of Indianapolis.

That was the bottom line of the presentation that Indianapolis City-County Council members heard Wednesday night from Hope Tribble, the director of audit and performance for Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration. 

The analysis of the sheriff’s office budget and operations, being conducted for the city by consulting firm KPMG, follows a dispute last year over the agency’s budget.

On the day that Hogsett announced his budget in 2017, the sheriff’s office announced that due to budget constraints, the agency would stop providing security at hospital rooms where arrestees were receiving treatment, stop transporting people to jail, and stop administering the county-jail intake process for arrestees.

That initially left those services—which cost millions per year—to fall to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, and the city planned to make a mid-year budget transfer from the sheriff’s office to IMPD to cover the cost.

But that plan rankled council Republicans, who questioned the timing of and wisdom of the announcement, to the point that Minority Leader Michael McQuillen at one point suggested defunding the sheriff’s office in the budget.

The presentation by Tribble on Wednesday painted a picture of an agency that has faced growing demand for its services in recent years. Katie Carlson, spokeswoman for the sheriff's office, told IBJ it would not comment on the preliminary report but would comment later this year once the report was finalized.

Arrests and jail bookings have grown since 2015, along with the average daily jail population, which grew from 86 percent of capacity to 101 percent, according to Tribble. Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office budget has had a 3 percent real-dollar decline since 2005.

Meanwhile, overtime costs at the department have risen dramatically, growing 128 percent, from $2.1 million in 2015 to $4.8 million in 2017.

The analysis found the increase in overtime resulted from “increasing demand coupled with reduced staffing or staffing increases that have not kept pace with demand.”

The consultants are recommending changes to the sheriff’s office operating model that could “enable efficiencies and relieve fiscal constraints through cost avoidance and savings.”

That could include having a demand-based staffing mode, streamlining the use of overtime, changing internal pay to achieve parity, bringing pay in line with market averages, and redefining promotion pathways, according to Tribble.

Tribble said that she expects the sheriff’s office to make changes over a three-year timeline “before [officials] change any budgets up or down.”

The sheriff’s office budget is proposed to receive an increase by $2.5 million this year. But the city’s deputy controller said Wednesday that the increase is not for operating expenses but rather for department service contracts that are due to increase.

Republican council member Scott Kreider, who has expressed concerns about the sheriff’s budget, said the recommendations were “really simple fixes” that he hopes are quickly implemented.

“Are they going to actually make the changes, not just for the last year of Sheriff Layton, but the next sheriff, Kreider said. 

Kreider said the report showed there has been “waste” in the department, but he said “I don’t think it’s political.”

“There’s a mindset of how they’ve done business. The reality is with declining budgets … we can’t keep doing things as we’ve always done them.”

Democrat council member Joe Simpson said he “wasn’t surprised [the agency] was underfunded.”

“I hope we can resolve this, because this is long overdue,” Simpson said.

The council approved spending $220,000 on the contract with KPMG in June. Its final report is expected to be delivered to the council by Dec. 31.

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