2018-02-11 / News

Prosecutor wants budget increase only six weeks into new year

BY ANDREW DIETDERICH
810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com


John Biscoe, controller/administrator, Lapeer County, told county board members that he needs to look closely at the proposed budget amendment from the prosecuting attorney’s office. 
Photos by Andrew Dietderich John Biscoe, controller/administrator, Lapeer County, told county board members that he needs to look closely at the proposed budget amendment from the prosecuting attorney’s office. Photos by Andrew Dietderich LAPEER — Citing a “significantly underfunded 2018 budget,” the Lapeer County Prosecuting Attorney’s office is requesting an additional $47,500 for the year — just six weeks into the year.

Tom Sparrow, assistant prosecuting attorney, Lapeer County, appeared before the Lapeer County Board of Commissioners committee of the whole Thursday.

Sparrow said he was representing Lapeer County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Sharkey who was attending a conference.

“The 2018 budget had serious shortages which will result in substantial deficits,” Sharkey wrote in a request for a budget amendment to the board.

Sparrow later elaborated for The County Press.


Tom Sparrow, assistant prosecuting attorney, Lapeer County, told the county board of commissioners Thursday that the prosecuting attorney’s office already needs about $48,000 more than it had budgeted for the year. Tom Sparrow, assistant prosecuting attorney, Lapeer County, told the county board of commissioners Thursday that the prosecuting attorney’s office already needs about $48,000 more than it had budgeted for the year. “We are asking the Board of Commissioners to amend our 2018 budget so it conforms with our actually expenses,” Sparrow said in an email.

“The 2017 budget was prepared by the former administration and by the prosecutor’s office manager that is no longer employed in the office,” Sparrow added. “There were some shortfalls that needed to be corrected constituent with the historical expenses of the office.”

In a memo to county commissioners requesting the budget amendment, two examples were provided of line item expenses identified as being “underfunded.”

One line was for “on-duty” pay that assistant prosecuting attorneys receive weekly for essentially being on-call.

The amount, Sharkey wrote to the board, is $300 a week, or $15,600 for the year.

However, he noted, the amount budgeted for the year is zero.

“Budgeting $0.00 for a known $15,600 expense is not sound fiscal policy,” he wrote. “This item was severely under budgeted in the 2017 budget, however, for some reason it was reduced to zero in 2018.”

Another problematic area is the amount of $1,500 budgeted for “witness fees.” The prosecuting attorney’s office requested at $13,500 increase for the year, bringing the total to $15,000.

During Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting, Sparrow explained that the prosecuting attorney’s office already has had to call on an expert witness in preparation for three trials.

“We had three fairly high-profile cases where we had to retain the services of Jack Haynes,” Sparrow said.

A bill from Jack Haynes, a licensed psychologist from Bloomfield Hills, was presented to the board to serve as an example of the kind of costs involved.

In preparing for the trial of Tamara Jean Leonard (before she pleaded guilty but mentally ill in fatally stabbing her 24-year-old son), the bill for Haynes was $4,604.80. Sparrow said similar bills were submitted in two other cases, including one of the teens who ended up pleading guilty to making false terrorist threats at Zemmer Middle School.

Though the three cases in question never went to trial, Sparrow said the prosecuting attorney’s office still needs to prepare as if the trials will proceed.

Lapeer County Commissioner Dyle Henning asked Sparrow about the bill from Haynes.

“Just out of curiosity… there’s no licensed psychologists here in the county that could maybe be brought in at a little reduced rate?” Henning asked.

Sparrow said he didn’t know why Haynes was chosen “off the top of my head.”

“I am assuming he has experience…in (assessing) criminal responsibility for a crime,” Sparrow said. “I’m guessing he’s been chosen for a reason.”

Lapeer County Board of Commissioners Chairman Gary Roy asked Sparrow to find out why Haynes was chosen specifically.

“If it is because of the expertise there or whatever, that’s fine…but just give us a little explanation there,” Roy said.

Other requested budget increases are: $1,200 for office supplies (mostly paper due to more printing, Sparrow said); $2,500 for employee training, $3,000 for “memberships;” and $3,876.40 for “books” (such as Michigan Court Rules, Gillespie’s Michigan Criminal Law and Procedure, and the Institute of Continuing Legal Education). Various other requested increases range from $100 to $1,100 for vehicle cost allocation.

The total requested amount is $47,566.

The prosecuting attorney’s approved budget for 2018 was $1,293,722.50.

Sparrow said the increase reflects Sharkey’s attempt to pad the budget a little for anticipated costs.

“Basically what he’s trying to avoid is coming down here every two months and saying ‘Can we amend our budget again?’” Sparrow said.

Still, Lapeer County Commissioner Cheryl Clark raised the question of why the request is happening now.

She noted that Sharkey had been involved in the budgeting process in late 2017.

“If all of this stuff is missing, why didn’t it come out then?” she asked. “We’ve got to look at the budget and see what happened.”

John Biscoe, controller/ administrator, Lapeer County, said “$47,000 in contingencies in the beginning of February is a lot.”

“And the fiscal situation hasn’t changed,” he added.

The board is set to further discuss the request at its Feb. 22 committee of the whole meeting.

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