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Saturday October 25th 2014

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Touart hammers away at fund set up to pay jail employees accrued leave

george touart
By Jesse Farthing

Interim County Administrator George Touart and his staff want the fund established by Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan to pay the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office employees’ accrued leave and vacation time when they leave the agency.

Touart needs that fund to help the county pay for the jail transfer.

Yesterday that want and need clashed with the ECSO at the jail transfer workshop as the administrator spent two hours demanding that the sheriff’s transition team, headed by Chief Deputy Eric Haines, give him the funds in the Internal Services Fund.

It didn’t happen.

As a result, the Escambia County Jail Transfer Workshop meeting on Monday morning was by far the least productive meeting on the subject in the last few weeks, with arguments about the sheriff’s internal service fund lasting for over two hours and reaching no resolution except to be revisited on Wednesday morning.

The ECSO’s internal service fund had accrued over $6 million, built up over the last four years, and was designed to be used for built-up leave payouts for employees who are leaving the sheriff’s department. The ISF was funded using lapsed salaries that came from salaried positions in the sheriff’s budget that have not been filled, which the county argues should have been returned to the county at the end of the year and not placed in this reserve fund.

“Eric, that wasn’t your money,” Touart said to Chief Deputy Eric Haines during the meeting. “That’s county money. What the auditor said is that’s borderline illegal.”

Touart then backed off that statement and said that, while it’s not technically illegal, ethically that money should have been returned to the county.

“It’s an ethical situation, I don’t mind telling you that,” Touart said. “There’s no way you can justify what you’re doing.”

Haines argued that the sheriff’s office has $18 million in leave liability and that the money cannot be returned to the county because they have no funding source for the leave. He said there is no way he could tell his people that he’s going to pay them one day without having the funds to actually do so.

The ISF currently sits at around $2.5 million after recent leave payouts and there are more expenses expected to the extent there may not be anything left.

“You’re saying that $6 million was some crazy amount to save,” Haines said. “Someone should be thanking someone for forward thinking, that this exists, because there would have been no way to fund this. We don’t even know that there’s going to be anything in an ISF right now.”

Amy Lovoy offered to have the county budget for expected leave payout to the extent of what a Board of County Commissioners employee would earn leave, and any overages would be funded by the sheriff’s lapsed salaries, only if the sheriff would do away with the ISF entirely and return 100% of reserve money at the end of the year to the county.

Haines agreed to exchange the detention liability to the county and do away with the ISF, but another roadblock was hit when he brought up, for the second time, that there might not be any money left in the ISF to give back after payouts—since Sheriff Morgan is intent on paying off the accrued leave of all his jail employees prior to them moving to county employment.

Haines and Lovoy argued back and forth on the specifics of the budget, eventually failing to come to any agreement and tabling the discussion for a later meeting where the sheriff’s office will come in with specific numbers regarding expected employee leave, ISF fund and lapsed salary money.

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Publisher’s Note: I think George Touart arguing ethics is hilarious, but that’s just me.