Greene County Commission Begins Individual Department Budget Meetings

The Greene County Commission on Wednesday began the process of meeting with the heads of individual county departments to break down budgets by line items and hear the priorities of different departments.

Wednesday’s budget sessions looked at the Sheriff’s Office, purchasing, Public Information, the County Clerk, and Information Systems along with a look at the County’s 102 Fund.

One of the major budget issues raised during the day came from the Information Systems Department. The head of the department, Jess Kerr, told Commissioners that the County’s IT system is receiving over 40,000 targeted attacks by hackers every month.

Kerr said the budget needs to prioritize the hiring of a cybersecurity engineer who can watch and maintain the growing tech system of the county.

“Every new building we build, we add new technology,” Kerr said to Commissioners.  “But we haven’t been adding any staff.  There’s physically not enough time [to cover everything] and it’s hurting the entire system.”

Kerr noted the move to the new County Operations Center added 15 new surveillance cameras and the accompanying tech.

County Clerk Shane Schoeller’s discussion with Commissioners raised the issue of the amount of time his staff has to deal with complex Sunshine Law requests that are taking up significant hours of his staff that ordinarily would be used for county business.

One example that Schoeller mentioned was one request that demanded five years of emails from multiple county officials, searched and sorted for multiple different key words. All of those emails have to be individually checked to see if they were closed by a court or if information has to be redacted for confidentiality reasons.

He noted a significant increase in requests of that kind of nature since 2016, and it’s driving up county staffing costs because of the extra hours put in my employees.

When Sheriff Jim Arnott arrived for his meeting with Commissioners, he noted something unlike other departments.

“We were very conservative on what we thought the budget was going to be,” Arnott said.  “The budget office actually budgeted one million more for our department than we did.”

The sheriff and Commissioners discussed issues related to the new jail and needs the county will have before construction will be completed.

In 2020, the County will have to begin taking up to 48 prisoners from the City of Springfield’s municipal courts, and Sheriff Arnott noted those courts are “needier” than the circuit courts. He explained that while circuit courts can use video links from the jail, the municipal courts do not, and that means his department will see an increase in prisoner transport costs as a result.

The replacement of vehicles for the department was also discussed, with potential plans for long-term savings for the county. One proposal is a model used by Christian County and the Missouri State Highway Patrol where new Tahoes are bought, used for 50,000 miles, and then sold; the price that can be obtained for those used models actually costs less than using a new vehicle until the end of its life cycle.

The county is also going to explore leasing options for sheriff’s department vehicles to see if the county could save more money than purchasing.

Sheriff Arnott also brought up to the Commission that his budget is being stretched by frivolous lawsuits being filed by prisoners.

In the current fiscal year, frivolous pro se suits from inmates have cost the county almost $100,000 in taxpayer dollars.

“They’re complete B.S.,” Arnott told Commissioners, “But we have to pay an attorney to go in and defend against them.”

The sessions were discussion and information, with no formal action being taken by the Commissioners. No further budget meetings are scheduled for this week, resuming on Monday and Tuesday of next week.

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