Wayne prosecutor, sheriff’s office fight for increased budgets

Steve Pardo
The Detroit News

Livonia – — Wayne County officials face weeks of squabbling — and possibly a year of blown budgets — as the prosecutor and sheriff’s offices continue to fight for millions of dollars more in funding.

The departments seek more than $43 million above what Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano has recommended for them for fiscal year 2014-15, which begins Oct. 1. Both departments have complained they’re underfunded. The executive’s office and county commissioners have said they need to work with the money they’re given.

Prosecutor Kym Worthy said she needs $43.5 million to run her department — $7.7 million higher than the $35.8 million requested by Ficano’s office. Worthy, who has been prosecutor for the last 10 years, said she is understaffed and assistant prosecutors are overworked and underpaid. Felony cases are being ignored because of the workload, she said.

“We are the lowest-funded prosecutor’s office in the United States,” Worthy told commissioners at a Thursday budget hearing at Livonia City Hall. “The other offices throughout the United States, they all use this county as an example of how not to fund the prosecutor’s office.”

Worthy sued the county in 2012 after commissioners approved a $25.6 million budget recommended by the executive office, and supported former Sheriff Warren Evans over Ficano in his Democratic primary win this month for the county executive seat.

Worthy said Thursday about 90 assistant prosecutors have quit because of the workload and pay levels. Fully staffed, the department employs about 180 assistant prosecutors. More than 1,000 police warrants are still waiting to be processed in her office, she said.

One commissioner said more money isn’t necessarily the answer.

“It’s just frustrating for me to hear this over and over how we are not doing enough for you,” said Commissioner Burton Leland, D-Detroit. “We’ve got to fix the system without just throwing more money at the system. Any time we throw more money, we’re taking it away from something else.”

Meanwhile, the sheriff’s department also says it’s underfunded. Sheriff Benny Napoleon is requesting nearly $181 million for operations. Ficano’s office has recommended $145 million. Overtime costs run around $18 million a year in the department.

The sheriff’s department is looking to hire more deputies, which would reduce the amount of overtime. There are 86 deputy positions unfilled and the department wants to hire a total of 219 more deputies. But the starting salary of under $29,000 has made it difficult to find candidates, said Sue Hall, sheriff's department administrator.

“It’s obvious if you have more employees you’d reduce overtime in the budget,” said Commissioner Alisha Bell, D-Detroit. “Are we just not hitting the right areas to get the word out? People still need jobs out here.”

Budget hearings will continue this month. The county operates on a $2 billion annual budget, but has an accumulated deficit of around $100 million. The debt was as high as $175 million earlier this year and is expected to finish fiscal year 2013-14 at the end of September at least $30 million in the red.


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