County officials say the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has succeeded in trimming its budget enough that it should end the fiscal year within its limits.
The agency had been nearly $4 million over budget for the fiscal year that began in July, and sheriff’s officials said that about $2 million of that was due to overtime costs of large-scale investigations.
LeeAnn Bohn, deputy budget director with the Office of Management and Budget, said that from October to November the sheriff’s office reduced its deficit by $746,240 from its two largest funds, which were $3.7 million over budget.
The budget problems came to light during the first quarter of the fiscal year, which began in July. Figures for December weren’t immediately available.
“I really do think they’ll be able to turn things around,” said Bohn, whose department is separate from the sheriff’s office, but works to help manage its $288 million budget.
Supervisor Don Stapley, R-District 2 of Mesa, Gilbert and Scottsdale, said the sheriff’s office works closely with the Board of Supervisors in managing the budget.
The agency has had problems in the past, too, but managed to fix them, Stapley said.
The board has no plans to place tighter controls on the office, such as requiring that every expenditure be approved by the board.
“We still have six months to go and they have taken some good steps in the right direction,” Stapley said.
Bohn said the budget gains have come from curbing spending. The board has not given the agency any additional money.
In the past few weeks, the sherriff’s office has shut down satellite jails, which has caused some concerns for local police officials. Local police agencies used the satellite jails, including one in Mesa, to book suspects, who were then transported by the sheriff to other jails.
Now, local officers from throughout the Valley have to drive to downtown Phoenix to book suspects.
Bohn said the satellite jails were a perk for those agencies and not a service the sheriff is required to provide.
During a spending crisis, an agency has to focus on the services mandated by law, Bohn said.
The sheriff’s office is also embroiled in a legal battle over cutting its visitation hours at the jail to save money.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Anna Baca ruled Dec. 7 that the office violated the rights of criminal defendants when it changed its jail visitation hours in November and restricted defense attorneys access to their clients.
Baca wrote that budget issues are “not an allowable basis” for limiting defendants’ access to counsel and the courts.
Baca ordered the sheriff’s office to restore its former visitation schedule for the legal community.
The Arizona Court of Appeals will hear the case Jan. 8.
The agency has also put a freeze on hiring deputies and detention officers.