Sheriff’s revenues exceed $2 million
Salaries at $1.27 million in 2009
ST. ALBANS TOWN — With total operating revenues of more than $2 million in 2008, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office takes in more revenue annually than all but three Franklin County communities.
It’s a large and complicated operation involving multiple contracts, all led by Sheriff Bob Norris, whose annual salary for last year was $112,000.
Yet the sources of that revenue and how it is expended do not receive the same scrutiny given annually to municipal budgets.
Sheriff’s offices around the state receive revenue from contracts with private organizations, state and local government and schools, as well as grants and county taxpayers via the county budgets. The sheriff is entitled to receive up to 5 percent of the value of the contracts as an “administrative fee.”
Under statute, the sheriff is a county employee, but is paid $65,000 by the state.
Sheriff’s are required to provide civil process service and transportation of prisoners and mental health patients. The state pays $2.7 million annually to sheriff’s offices around the state to pay for prisoner transport, according to Lamoille County Sheriff Roger Marcoux, who is the head of the Vermont Sheriff’s Association (VSA). Civil process is paid for by the litigants.
In Franklin County, the sheriff has contracts with municipalities, schools, the district courthouse and private businesses.
The municipal contracts provide roughly half of the Franklin County department’s revenue. Under the current contracts between the sheriff’s office and the nine area communities that purchase services, the municipalities will pay $1.07 million collectively to the sheriff’s office.
Salaries and cars
The department employs 22 full-time deputies, 15 part-time deputies, four dispatchers (two part-time), a receptionist, and a bookkeeper.
Salaries are by far the largest expense the department has and in 2009, the department spent $1.27 million on salaries.
The majority of those funds, $943,000, went to pay for services provided under contracts with municipalities, schools and private companies. Transportation of prisoners and mental health patients was $57,652 of the salary total. Civil process was $27,984 and providing security to county courthouses used $110,963 of the salary budget.
The 2009 figures also includes $118,488 in salaries for employees of the county jail, which Norris closed in September 2009, when a 15-year contract with the federal government expired.
Norris himself was paid $65,812 by the state and an additional $47,055.70 in compensation from the sheriff’s office in 2009, making his total salary for the year $112,867.70,
St. Albans City Police Chief Gary Taylor is paid approximately $78,000 per year. Vermont State Police lieutenants – the rank at which, for instance, an officer commands a barracks -- typically earn between $62,600 and $74,600 annually, according to spokesperson Sgt. Tara Thomas.
Cars are the second biggest expense for the office, with county taxpayers paying $24,000 to insure the department’s 22 vehicles.
Fourteen of those vehicles are patrol cars. Additional cars are used for traffic and as detective cars. The department owns a truck for the sheriff and a Mobile Support Unit, a large vehicle that can serve as a mobile office.
The department spends about $7,000 per month on gas and $2,800 on vehicle maintenance, according to Kristy Lynch, the department’s bookkeeper.
The sheriff’s office provides patrol services for nine Franklin County communities under contract. The number of patrols ranges from two 8-hour patrols per week in Georgia and Sheldon to around-the-clock police coverage in St. Albans Town.
Communities pay for those additional services.
His department does more patrol hours than any other sheriff’s department in the state at 27,000 patrol hours per year, Norris said.
Part of those contracts is an administrative fee. “The only contracts I charge an administration fee are on patrol contracts,” Norris said. Those contracts involve additional meetings, assistance with municipal ordinances, and other duties, he explained.
Under the current municipal contracts shown on the accompanying table, Norris will receive $40,322.
The sheriff’s office also provides a school resource officer to Enosburg High School. For eight years the office also provided a resource officer at Missisquoi Valley Union High School, but stopped when the officer retired. If his office continued to provide the service, school taxpayers would’ve had to pay the officer’s salary, because the sheriff’s office was no longer eligible for a grant to cover the cost. Swanton Village Police, however, were. “We stepped down to allow that to happen, obviously,” Norris said.
The office has also had contracts with the state to patrol Lake Carmi State Park and with the Lake Carmi Campers Association.
Traffic control is also provided under contract for construction projects and utility work. The office has a regular contract with Central Vermont Public Service and is currently providing traffic control to the state during the paving on Route 105.
County residents support the sheriff’s office through their county taxes.
In the fiscal year just ended, the sheriff’s department was budgeted to receive $208,780 from the county for utilities, rent, insurance, supplies, training and ammunition as well as salaries for court security, the bookkeeper and secretary.
That amount is 51 percent of the county taxes for last year.
The county budget also pays for security at the superior and probate courts. In Franklin County, the sheriff also provides security for the district court under a state contract.
Under statute the county must pay for several expenses connected to the sheriff’s office, including office space, telephone service, training, matching funds for grants, and “law enforcement equipment, supplies, insurance and funds for maintaining and operating such equipment as the assistant judges consider necessary to ensure that the department operates in a safe, accountable and professional manner.” The county must also provide “reasonable” bookkeeping and secretarial services.
However, the statute also states that any work done on contracts must be paid for from contract revenues, referring specifically to “salaries, equipment and other funds necessary to carry out that contract.”
Interpretation of the statute is left to the assistant judges, according to Marcoux, who offered as an example the salary for bookkeepers and secretarial services. In some counties, the county pays for the entire salary, in others the assistant judges insist on only paying a portion of those salaries.
“In this county, any contract-related costs are paid by the contract,” Marcoux said, including costs for training patrol officers and equipping patrol cars. He uses a formula to determine how much of the administrative overhead will be charged to the county.
On March 22, the Messenger requested from the Franklin County Sheriff in writing “a detailed accounting of what expenses were billed to Franklin County during FY 2009 and the current fiscal year. If a formula was used to determine what share of various costs was to be billed to the county, please include a copy of that formula.”
Norris said no formula was used to determine what was billed to the county. He pointed to statutory requirements and the county budget to show what expenses were paid by the county.
Asked about the training paid for by the county, Norris said how much training the county pays for is at the discretion of the assistant judges. The statement was made during a meeting to discuss a request by the Messenger for financial documents.
In the fiscal year just ended, the county had budgeted $30,220.59 for training costs for sheriff deputies, of which $5,000 was for courses and $2,000 for ammunition. The rest, $24,031.20 was for training salaries. As of May, the department had spent all of the funds except the ammunition funds.
The training salary expenses for Deputy Edouard Larente totaled $12,538.26. Deputies Dennett, Vaillancourt, Begnoche, and Patnode were also among those paid out of the training salaries budget.
According to a salary report for the calendar year 2009, none of the named employees provided security services at either district or superior court. It is not known if they provided court security during the first six months of 2010.
Similarly, the sheriff’s expenditures on law enforcement supplies matches the amount budgeted by the county. Those expenditures include canine cages at a cost of $1,120 and office chairs for $683, as well as gun shop purchases and other items whose nature was unclear.
While office chairs would fall under the office equipment provision of the statute, it is unclear whether the cages for police dogs and gun shop purchases are appropriate county expenses, given the statutory requirement that costs related to contracts be billed to contracts and the supreme court’s ruling in Stowe. V. Lamoille.
The sheriff also spent $4,000 of county taxes on radio equipment, another equipment expense connected, at least in part, to patrolling.
“If the side judges are agreeing to pay for things, you can’t blame the sheriff,” said the VSA’s Marcoux.