Sheriff’s returns $2.1 million to county, but wants it back

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods speaks against an emergency ordinance to require face coverings during the Ocala City Council meeting at Ocala City Hall in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, July 21, 2020. The City Council voted 3-2 against the emergency mask ordinance suggested by Councilman Matt Wardell that would have required people in Ocala to wear face coverings in indoor locations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

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Posted April 8, 2021 | Brendan Farrell, Ocala Gazette

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods is shown in this July file photo. Woods returned $2.1 million to the county that was not spent during the 2019-2020 fiscal year.  He wants it back to make improvements  [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

The Marion County Board of County Commissioners approved shifting $2.1 million in unspent money from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office into the general fund but earmarked it for future improvements to the sheriff’s campus.

Woods returned roughly $2.1 million which was not spent during the 2019-2020 fiscal year. The fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

More than $500,000 came from unused money allocated for the jail’s fencing project. Another $766,384 came from unspent jail overtime. The sheriff also returned $1.1 million in Municipal Service Taxing Unit money.

“This is strictly moving the money into the appropriate account so that it is able to be assigned and managed as those decisions are made,” said Audrey Fowler, the county’s budget director.

In a letter to the commission, Sheriff Billy Woods requested the money return to him to pay for “various construction and remodeling projects at the Sheriff’s Office Complex.”

Woods also returned over $840,000 as reimbursement for expenditures relating to the response for Hurricanes Irma and Michael.  Woods asked for those funds to be reserved for a future emergency response, citing the difficulty in funding overtime and supplies when responses to disasters like hurricanes happen toward the end of a fiscal year.

Commissioner Carl Zalak was bothered by the way the issue was handled.

“This is the wrong way to do this, in my personal opinion,” he said. “That’s the entire point of why we go through a budget, that’s why we put together capital improvement plans, that’s why we have a CIP, the whole freakin’ book that y’all prepare for us for those budgets and planned items.”

Zalak said that he wanted the money to be returned to the commission to be allocated in the next budget.

“We funded all of the operations, we funded all of the overtime, we funded all of the raises, we funded everything else,” Zalak said. “I don’t know that setting this money aside, you know, and we’ve had some priorities and we kind of go through the budget and then this thing gets set off to the side.”

Still, Zalak and the rest of the commission voted unanimously in favor of the budget amendment.

Chairman Jeff Gold assured Zalak that any request for the money would undergo the same oversight that projects do during the usual budget process.

“Each project has to be vetted, the money was just put into that account to keep it there,” Gold said.

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