FARMINGTON — Davis County Sheriff Todd Richardson asked for 84 new deputies, jailers and other personnel in a nearly $15 million budget increase request that generated surprise and rebukes from other elected officials.
“This would mean a 36 percent tax increase,” Davis County Clerk-Auditor Curtis Koch told Richardson during the sheriff’s office’s 2018 budget hearing Tuesday. “You’re asking for a $15 million dollar tax increase.”
The current year’s sheriff’s budget totals about $33.8 million, according to county documents.
The budget conflict flared against a backdrop of running controversies over operations at the county jail, where six inmates died in 2016, and several critical audits of questionable spending in the sheriff’s office, at least two of which have resulted in criminal investigations.
In defending himself against criticism, including now over the budget, Richardson seems to be attempting to cast other county officials as anti-law enforcement, Commissioners Jim Smith and Bret Millburn asserted.
Richardson and his department heads presented personnel, equipment and structural requests they said were justified by increased county and jail populations, plus a tide of substance abuse and mental illness among jail inmates.
He also raised the specter of a Las Vegas-type mass shooting for which the county must be prepared. The sheriff’s office, he contended, must be staffed to be able to swoop in to help strapped city police departments during extreme emergencies as well as routine spikes in call volumes.
Koch, Smith and Millburn complained the sheriff sprung the budget proposal with almost no warning and outside the bounds of normal budgeting processes. The commissioners complained the presentation was loaded with anecdotal examples but little data justifying the requests.
Annual budget drafting begins in July, “and the first notice we get of this is Sept. 25,” Koch said.
“How are we going to accomplish this,” Millburn asked. “Nobody knew about this. We did not see it coming. This would equate to double the tax increase we did last year. This is impossible, I mean impossible, for us to implement.”
Officials also were confused whether the proposal was intended as a one-year project — that’s how it showed up in budget documents — or as a five-year plan, as law officers described it during a lengthy slide presentation.
“It’s absolutely critical we look at things and plan, but unfortunately, at least as I read the presentation, it’s ‘boom, here it is, this is what’s needed,’” Millburn said.
A five-year plan “wasn’t your assignment,” Smith told the sheriff. “Today is supposed to be step one to get us down the road.”
Millburn said Richardson has had “plenty of opportunities over the past couple of years” to talk to fellow officials about long-term needs but had not done so.
The sheriff disagreed with their impression and said he felt compelled Tuesday to “paint a picture” of five-year needs “to eliminate any ambiguity.”
POLICE FORCE DUPLICATION?
Millburn questioned the need for 26 more law enforcement officers, given that most Davis cities have their own police forces.
He pointed to the sheriff’s mission statement, which pledges the office will be “frugal and efficient.” How much duplication would an increased sheriff’s presence create with city police forces, he asked.
“If the sheriff is the primary law enforcement side of things, then why do we have all these other agencies, and why are we double-taxing all these folks,” he said. “Why do you need all these other people?”
County Attorney Troy Rawlings told the sheriff he doesn’t even have the legal authority to blanket the county with patrolling deputies. “Only when you initiate pursuits,” Rawlings said.
Millburn said he objected to characterizations by Richardson that his fellow officials “care more about money than public safety.”
“We can’t ignore the fiscal side. For some reason Utah doesn’t like paying taxes. Who knew?” Smith added.
And Millburn said, “I promise, next year, are you guys going to be planning on dropping a $36 million dollar tax increase on us? Because we’ll find out if we have to pull it out of you.”
Smith urged Richardson to refine his 2018 budget request and get back to commissioners.
“What is the real request,” Smith said. “I don’t think it’s going to be 84 people.”