Sheriff Paul Blackman gives $1.3 M back to the county

Sheriff Paul Blackman, fourth for the left, gives $1.3 million back to the Highlands County Board of County Commission during Tuesday’s board meeting. Pictured are, from left, County Commissioners Greg Harris, Jim Brooks and Ron Handley; Blackman; Commissioners Jack Richie and Don Elwell. Deputy Clerk of the Courts Jerome Kaszubowski is seated behind Blackman.

SEBRING — On Tuesday, Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman had a $1.3 million check to give the Board of County Commission.

Specifically, Blackman paid back a total of $1,290,687.38 from various restricted funds left over from the 2017-18 fiscal year. He said the funds were left over in part because his administrators had worked hard all year at being frugal with their departmental budgets.

He also told the Highlands News-Sun that, in some cases, his agency would have spent some of the leftover funds, but didn’t have time to get the equipment, software or other capital items delivered before Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Something ordered might not arrive in that fiscal year, Blackman said. If it doesn’t, the funds would be spent outside the fiscal year, which is something he can’t do.

“You have to be careful of that,” Blackman said.

The funds he returned were not available for salaries or raises, which was why he could not use them to hire school resource deputies. Besides, the funds could not be used after Sept. 30, and he would have to pay the deputies throughout the entire school year.

The amounts he paid back from Fiscal Year 2017-18 consisted of delayed, unneeded or deferred capital purchases, Blackman said.

They included:

  • $490,000 from Account 420 for administrative services, the general fund and law enforcement.
  • $460,000 from Account 520 for the detention department.
  • $13,000 from Account 320 for judicial security.
  • $73,000 from Account 520 for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, or SCAAP.

Blackman said SCAAP reimburses jails for the prorated costs of housing criminal aliens — those with felony charges or at least two misdemeanors — for more than three calendar days in any given year.

Blackman said his agency received, as he recalls, approximately $18,000 from SCAAP in 2014, $43,000 in 2015 and $20,000 in 2016.

Other funds reimbursed to the county include grants, such as the E911 grant. If it’s not all spent, Blackman said, he has to give it back.

He’ll re-apply for the grant for this fiscal year, 2018-19, but he has to clear the accounts first.

One such grant, for $60,000, is the Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Adapt unit. The program stays in place, but the funding has to rotate out each year.

Last year, Blackman said, he recalls handing back $400,000 to the county.

“I tried to make it clear (Tuesday), this was thanks to the hard work of men and women being conservative and buying things in the most economical way,” Blackman said.

In addition to getting good deals on food service and getting the best contracts on office and field supplies, Blackman said advances in technology sometime make those budget cuts happen.

For example, a division might budget $10,000 on software that helps search a phone under a warrant. By the time the department is ready to buy it, a new type of technology has arrived at a portion of the price.

He might also budget salaries for deputies, but open positions may not get filled until halfway through the year or retiring staff may leave early.

Even with 360 members in his agency, Blackman thinks he had a high turnover rate, including having two retire just last week.

But then, he gets new deputies from retirees. Two from coastal counties who recently retired here have interviewed for his last two school resource deputy spots, Blackman said.

It happens a lot right after a big hurricane hits the coasts, he said. People ramp up their plans to move inland.

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