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Old 04-22-2009, 07:54 PM
eleanor17 eleanor17 is offline
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Angry Bristol County not paying medical or utilities

This was in Tues. New Bedford Standard Times, I wonder if things would change for the better or worse if the state takes over....?

By Brian Fraga
April 21, 2009 6:00 AM

The Bristol County Sheriff's Department is not paying its medical and utility bills because the agency is running out of money.

"If we paid all our bills, we'd have no money left over to pay our salaries," Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson said.

Hodgson estimates his $41.34 million budget for fiscal 2009 — which is supposed to cover operating expenses through June 30 — will be depleted by May 21.

Bristol County Treasurer Kevin J. Finnerty gives it another three weeks before the money is gone.

"We might get him to the 14th of May," said Finnerty, who has been providing the county commissioners with weekly updates to project when the sheriff's department will be broke.

Finnerty said that even with several variables considered, he expects the sheriff to run out of money between May 7 and 14.

"Either way, it's not looking good for anybody, absent the state coming and giving the sheriff supplemental funds."

Last month, Hodgson and Finnerty said the sheriff's department would be broke by late April. Hodgson previously estimated he would have no money left by April 16.

In an interview Friday, Hodgson said his department was able to extend the budget by not paying telephone, electrical and medical bills, and reusing copy paper.

Hodgson said his department has just over $2 million in outstanding bills, $1.4 million of which is owed to Correctional Medical Care, which provides medical services to inmates.

The sheriff's department is still paying for salaries and benefits to its employees, gasoline for vehicles as well as providing meals and basic clothing items for inmates.

Hodgson said he has written letters to Gov. Deval Patrick requesting emergency funds, declaring a state of emergency and even asking that the National Guard's medical corps be activated in the event his department's medical carrier stops providing services because of unpaid bills.

Asked what will happen if his department runs out money before July 1, Hodgson said: "National Guard. I'll ask the governor to activate it."

A spokesman for the governor's office directed questions to Cyndi Roy, spokeswoman for the state Executive Office for Administration and Finance.

Roy noted the governor's announcement last week that the state is facing a $156 million budget deficit. Patrick also said the shortfall could reach $400 million by the end of the fiscal year.

Roy said no decisions have been made on supplemental funding.

"Given the magnitude of the budget deficit we continue to deal with, it will be very difficult to give supplemental funds to any department," Roy said.

Year-end budget deficiencies are an annual occurrence for the county sheriffs, even during good economic times.

The governor's office says that is because the county sheriffs rely on deeds excise taxes for a portion of their funding. With the housing market's volatility, deeds excise tax receipts fluctuate monthly, making them an unstable source of revenue.

The funding issue is highlighted in a bill pending in the Legislature that would absorb the seven county sheriffs under the state umbrella for budgeting and finance. The governor argues the arrangement would lower costs. Hodgson and the other county sheriffs have expressed misgivings.

"I doubt that anyone believes the state government is the answer to more efficient and cost-effective services," Hodgson said.

Hodgson and Finnerty say it is an annual exercise that the Office for Administration and Finance underfunds the sheriff at the start of each fiscal year, only to begrudgingly give him supplemental funds following several trips to Boston.

"The administration knowingly created this situation by not giving us adequate funding," Hodgson said.

According to the state Executive Office for Administration and Finance, the Bristol County Sheriff's Department received $30.12 million in state money this fiscal year. The sheriff received $11.22 million from deeds excise taxes and federal funds for detaining illegal immigrants.

Hodgson said his present budget is $440,000 less than what it was in fiscal 2005. He said he needs $5.4 million in supplemental funds to get the department through the end of June.

"I'm hopeful the Legislature will step in and get him through the rest of the year," Finnerty said. "It's a public safety issue."

Meanwhile, Hodgson said he has already cut the fat in his budget by closing the David R. Nelson Correctional Addiction Center in New Bedford and eliminating 52 positions during the past two years.

He said inmates are locked down more often, only receive one visit per week and are served Tang instead of orange juice.

"We're at the bone, and now we're losing appendages here," Hodgson said.
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