Numbers game

Outgoing Sheriff Scott Mackenzie has taken a lot of flak during his tenure about discrepancies and extra appropriations in the sheriff’s budget. Last March, he lost a bitterly fought election to Perry Reniff, who accused Mackenzie of unethical hiring practices and rampant overspending. Last April, county Supervisor Mary Anne Houx called Mackenzie’s request for an additional $250,000 to cover expenses at the jail “excessive, abusive and shameful.”

Maybe that’s the reason, with a scant two months before he leaves office, Mackenzie recently sent an “open letter to the public” to local media claiming the department is $778,000 under budget for the 2001-02 fiscal year.

But is the department really in the black?

Possibly, said Assistant County Auditor Dave Kelly, who stressed that there are many different ways to analyze budget information. Working with only raw numbers and not knowing which technique the sheriff used, Kelly said it looked to him like the department was under budget by about $500,000.

“There are different ways of looking at it,” he said. “I’m not saying his numbers are not valid; they’re just not the same numbers I get.”

Cyndy Mann, a county administrator helping to fill in for vacationing CAO Paul McIntosh, said the county added about $900,000 to the sheriff’s $20 million budget during the last fiscal year to support new positions, mainly at the chronically understaffed county jail.

Even if you leave out the extra appropriations, though, there still may be a problem with Mackenzie’s numbers. According to county human-resources analysts, the Sheriff’s Department currently has at least 30 personnel vacancies, including 12 correctional officers, 10 deputies, four dispatchers and two clerks. If the department were to staff those positions at entry-level salaries, it would incur a cost of about $943,308.

Mann also indicated that the county, which apparently was not included on the distribution list for Mackenzie’s letter, was somewhat less enthused about the supposed savings.

“We would hope to at least see that amount of savings [Kelly’s $500,000 figure], considering the vacancies in the department,” she said.

Neither Sheriff Mackenzie nor his chief budget analyst could be reached by press time.