Budget Ideas Need To Be Examined

County legislators recently expressed frustration with Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace after a third consecutive year of the Sheriff’s Department running over its budget.

There were a variety of reasons for the overruns, which totaled $1.3 million in 2017, including 2016 employee contracts approved after the legislature passed the 2017 county budget that didn’t generate as much savings as anticipated; the department being roughly $300,000 over its budget for overtime and continued issues with jail overcrowding.

Jail overcrowding is a particularly important issue for the Sheriff’s Department. Not only does an overcrowded jail mean the county has to pay to send inmates to other counties, it also means the Sheriff’s Department can’t realize revenue by accepting federal inmates. We hope that a couple of ideas Gerace shared at a recent Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting can provide some help to the overcrowding issue and maybe help people at the same time.

The first idea Gerace discussed was a Weekender program. The county would hire a third party contractor is hired and through probation the convicted individual serves their sentence on the weekends.

An even better alternative could be the Law Enforcement Assisted Division program modeled on a program in Albany. Those who are charged with minor crimes are given a choice before they are arrested — either they can continue with the arrest and make their way through the courts or be handed over to a case officer, who then takes the person to a safe place and finds services that can help the person from offending again. There is no actual arrest, so the person’s criminal record or job status isn’t affected. They don’t end up in jail, so the county isn’t filling the jail waiting for court dates or for a person to finish serving a sentence. And, people’s lifes could potentially be changed for the better.

We hope both programs can be vetted in time for possible inclusion in this year’s Chautauqua County budget. Perhaps such programs can save enough money that the cost overruns in the Sheriff’s Department budget can be reduced in the future.