OREGON – Government agencies often spend every cent they get. Sometimes they don’t.
In the past 2 years, Ogle County Sheriff Michael Harn has left unspent more than $1 million from his annual budgets.
According to the county treasurer’s numbers, Harn didn’t spend $766,000 in his budget last fiscal year and $572,000 the previous year. His budget includes law enforcement, corrections, and building and grounds for all county property.
In the 2013 budget, Harn’s unspent money included $350,000 for repairs and maintenance of buildings, including redoing the heating and cooling system for a county building, Treasurer John Coffman said. The sheriff handles the county’s buildings and grounds.
“Projects were planned,” Coffman said, “and for whatever reason didn’t happen.”
While the county’s budgeting process won’t begin for about 6 months, Ogle County Chairman Kim Gouker said, there might be a review to determine whether the Sheriff’s Department or others are being overbudgeted.
“There’s no point in budgeting funds, if they’re not necessary,” he said.
Harn did not respond to requests for comment.
Gouker said Harn had saved money for the county by working to get favorable contracts for natural gas and electricity for county buildings.
The sheriff is also saving money by having patrol cars fill up at the gas pumps the county owns, he said, and has increased revenue the county receives from federal inmates who are housed by the U.S. Marshals Service at the Ogle County Jail.
Harn proposed the idea for the county to install an underground tank for gas, which all county departments can use for county vehicles.
Last fiscal year, the County Board allocated $6.7 million for Harn’s departments, and he spent $5.8 million of that. The previous year, $6.4 million was budgeted, with $5.8 million spent.
“Some departments seem to spend everything; others spend what they need and turn money back,” Treasurer Coffman said. “[The $766,000] is a good chunk of money.”
With money left unspent, that theoretically means a lower tax levy the next year, he said. In this situation, he said, the county didn’t see much of a change.
“The budget is both an estimate of revenues and expenses,” Coffman said. “A lot of departments are involved in [the general] fund.”
Putting the budget together is a “give and take,” said Gouker, who also serves as the board’s Finance Committee chairman. Gouker said he wants to have as small a budget as possible, while still providing the services necessary to county residents.
The fact that Harn has kept his department under its budget, Gouker said, is significant.
“I’ve always said that this sheriff spends the tax dollars like his own money, and I mean that as a compliment,” Gouker said. “He tries to get the most bang out of the buck for the taxpayer.”