Say transfers to cover overtime reflect poor planning
The Putnam County Legislature on Dec. 3 turned down a request by Sheriff Robert Langley Jr. to move $121,000 from his equipment and administrative budget lines to partially cover a deficit created by road patrol overtime.
The transfer was denied with a 7-1 vote, with Nancy Montgomery of Philipstown, the sole Democrat on the panel, casting the dissenting vote. Legislator Neal Sullivan (R-Carmel) was absent.
During the meeting, Legislator Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson) called the request by Langley, a first-term Democrat who in 2017 defeated four-term Republican incumbent Don Smith by 341 votes, “concerning on multiple levels.” She noted the money would be moved from 42 accounts and questioned whether the allotments for those categories were too high if each had a year-end surplus.
Of the transfers requested by Langley, the largest were from the lines for temporary hires ($38,000), automotive expenses ($20,000), school resource officer training ($13,000), uniforms ($9,600) and equipment rental ($7,000). Twenty-one of the 42 requested transfers were for less than $1,000 and 15 of those for less than $500. Transfers do not cost the county additional money over what was budgeted but the county charter says agencies cannot exceed their budget lines.
It was a sudden change of approach for the Republican legislators, who for years have routinely approved such transfers. In 2018, the Legislature OKed Langley’s requests to move at least $192,000 to cover overtime, and in 2012 and 2014 it approved requests from Sheriff Smith to move $200,000 or more to cover overtime.
The Sheriff’s Department, which includes the jail and probation officers, spent $2.5 million on overtime in 2018, according to records obtained by The Current through a Freedom of Information Law request. Of the county’s top 25 overtime earners, 15 are sheriff’s deputies and nine are corrections officers. By comparison, the Highway Department spent $541,000 and all other agencies a total of $465,000.
Montgomery said her colleagues should not be surprised by Langley’s request.
“I believe [in 2018] the sheriff was told ‘no new hires,’ and I believe then he warned that there would be this [overtime] deficit in 2019,” she said. “It is in our best interest for public safety to vote ‘yes’ on this because we did not give him the resources he needed to hire new people.”
Nevertheless, Legislator Carl Albano (R-Carmel) accused Langley of poor planning. “You should have an idea of where the budget is going, and be in the ballpark,” he said.
“This is not a public safety issue, this is a respect-for-our-taxpayers issue,” added Legislator Paul Jonke (R-Southeast). “You don’t spend money that you don’t have.”
Legislator Amy Sayegh (R-Mahopac Falls) said that when the county transfers money that was intended for one purpose to another line item, the budget process is not transparent.
Moving the Money
A number of Putnam County agencies each December ask the Legislature to move unspent funds from budget lines that have surpluses to those that have shortfalls, and, with the exception of the vote on Dec. 3, such transfers are typically OKed without debate. The approved Sheriff’s Department transfers below, taken from meeting minutes, do not include money moved from one overtime line to another.
2018 (Sheriff Robert Langley Jr.) – $192K
$10K from jail food temp jobs → medical and jail food overtime
$43K from Emergency Response Team, automotive, equipment, maintenance, uniforms, computers, books, medical equipment, office supplies, travel, and bike and patrol overtime → general overtime
$23K from jail personnel services → jail medical overtime
$15K from temp jobs → general overtime
$60K from prisoner boarding → patrol overtime
$15K from compensatory time → patrol overtime
$8K from range supplies → patrol overtime
$2K from medical exams → patrol overtime
$5K from compensatory time → investigators’ overtime
$11K from jail personnel → jail medical overtime
2017 (Sheriff Langley) – $33K
$15K from temp and training → overtime
$18K from unfilled jobs → first responder training overtime
2016 (Sheriff Don Smith) – $88K
$88K from unfilled jobs → general overtime
2015 (Sheriff Smith) – $126K
$22K from overtime, software and insurance → a new police vehicle
$25K from temp jobs → a second police vehicle
$42K from unfilled jobs → general overtime
$37K from unfilled jobs → jail and medical overtime
2014 (Sheriff Smith) – $200K
$53K from cleaners and temp → miscellaneous, building security overtime, courts overtime and $40K in patrol overtime
$102K from prisoner board out, transport overtime, printing, food overtime, software and maintenance → medical overtime, training overtime, food temp and jail overtime
$45K from temp, maintenance, education, equipment, gas and cleaners → general overtime
2013 (Sheriff Smith) – $64K
$64K from personnel, cleaners, bike patrol overtime, education and training → patrol and narcotics overtime
2012 (Sheriff Smith) – $217K
$78K from personnel and temp → general overtime
$106K from electric, training overtime, uniforms, office supplies, education and training → jail overtime
$14K from travel, software and accessories → jail overtime
$19K in miscellaneous, equipment rental, equipment and maintenance → prisoner transport overtime
“It is understood that we need to pay our deputies for their service and their overtime,” Sayegh said. However, she questioned why there is money left over that was meant for uniforms, books, postage, paper, and other equipment and materials.
“If you don’t need that much money in those lines, why is it budgeted, just to play this shell game at the end of the year?” she asked.
Added Nacerino: “I cannot, in good faith, approve 40 lines being transferred to road patrol when none of those monies was encumbered for that purpose. There is something wrong with that formula.”
In a statement released after the vote, Langley, who lives in Philipstown, commended the legislators for questioning the proposed transfers, “as they should with all county departments.”
However, the sheriff noted that budgets are projections created in the fall for the next calendar year, and that money is often moved “because no department can determine unanticipated costs a month or a year in advance. That is why, traditionally, money is and has always been transferred between budget lines in Putnam County not only at the end of year, but throughout the entire year,” he said.
Langley said he held off purchasing various items until the end of the year to make sure the funds were available.
“This is the reason I requested to transfer some money for purchases and did not purchase other items, instead choosing to transfer other funds to patrol overtime, which has been substantially underfunded for many years,” he said.
According to Langley, his office brought in at least $350,000 this year in additional revenue for the county by renegotiating the daily housing rate paid by the U.S. Marshall’s Service to board prisoners.
“This rate was established in 1992 and not renegotiated since,” he said. “Moreover, our Civil Division increased its revenue by over 60 percent in 2019 by updating its policies and procedures to be consistent with existing laws.”
Since the road patrol overtime has already been paid, and the account remains in the red, Finance Commissioner William Carlin said that at year’s end he will likely move money from various departments and line items to settle the account.
In her own statement, County Executive MaryEllen Odell, a Republican, said the Legislature had “taken a stand to protect taxpayers” against a “last-minute request” by Langley for “unexpected overtime costs” and “budget manipulations.”
Langley was grilled on Nov. 11 during a meeting of the Legislature’s Protective Services Committee meeting before it voted 2-1 to send his request to the full Legislature. (The Audit & Administration committee also voted 2-1 to send the request to the full Legislature.) When a legislator asked why there was so much overtime, Langley said there were three officers at the academy for five-month periods, and that he had minimum staffing of six officers during the day and five to six on overnight shifts.
When Jonke suggested that Langley could reduce staffing, the sheriff said he had inherited those levels from Smith and asserted, “I put public safety above personal politics.” Jonke, the committee chair, responded: “This is not personal politics. This is a set of rules we all have to live by. If you have to manage things in a different way and still protect the public, that’s on you. You can’t just spend whatever you want on the overtime and ask Bill Carlin to figure out where it will come from.”
“We don’t have any other department that does this,” asserted Sullivan, another member of the committee. “The Sheriff’s Department is really an issue when we’re so far in the red. We need to see things change. It’s unsustainable.”
Langley asked the Legislature for $762,000 in the 2020 budget for overtime after spending $789,000 in 2018. It approved $520,000, a 2 percent increase over 2019.
Two days after the Dec. 3 legislative meeting in Carmel, the issue came up at the Philipstown Town Board when Councilor John Van Tassel reported that he had attended the Legislature meeting and found that the “party politics are pretty rough” there.
Van Tassel, a longtime volunteer firefighter, said overtime costs can be difficult to forecast, “especially in emergency services. If an emergency happens, it’s just that — an emergency” and deputies must deal with it.
He pointed to a recent, seven-hour standoff in Mahopac where a man barricaded himself in his home. Van Tassel said legislators commended Langley on the way his department and the Carmel police resolved the situation while also blasting the sheriff for his proposed budget transfers. “I’m sure overtime was accumulated that night, but you have no choice,” Van Tassel said.
Montgomery described the uproar over Langley’s request as “playing politics with public safety” and said other departments making transfer requests do not face such scrutiny.
Langley “is in an extremely difficult position. You don’t want to have people on the Legislature setting you up,” said Supervisor Richard Shea.
Councilor Robert Flaherty suggested the county devote some of the sales tax it collects to police overtime.
Shea, who has long urged the county to share sales tax revenue with villages and towns, concurred. “At least then we’d know where it’s going,” he said.
Holly Crocco and Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong contributed reporting.