Sheriff wins budget battle against commission

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A judge ordered the Jefferson County Commission not to spend more than $5 million it took from the sheriff department's budget, but also ordered the two sides to work out their differences.

Judge Joseph Boohaker ruled Thursday afternoon the commission could not spend the $5.1 million it took last week from the sheriff's budget, but he also ruled Sheriff Mike Hale could not get the money back until both parties sat down and tried to work out a compromise "in good faith."

Judge Boohaker said both the sheriff and the commission have one week to work out their differences and report back to him.

Hale sued the county commission after it cut the sheriff's budget by more than $5 million as part of its budget cuts.  Hale said the commission did not have the legal authority

Sheriff Hale asked Judge Boohaker to order the Jefferson County Commission to give back the $5 million it took from his budget last Thursday. Hale also asked the judge to issue a restraining order preventing the county commission not be able to tamper with his budget in the future.

During Wednesday's closing arguments attorney's for the county commission said that the sheriff's department would be able to operate if cuts are made.

Sheriff Hale's attorney told the judge if the sheriff was ordered to cut his budget by $5 million, more than 150 deputies would lose their jobs and public safety would be put at risk.

During testimony, Sheriff Hale said the budget cuts put the public at risk.

"I was representing the people of Jefferson County," Hale said. "I talked about law and order, and safety. I made the case I was elected to make, to keep neighborhoods and communities safe."

Attorneys for Hale provided closing arguements Wednesday in the court battle with the Jefferson County Commission. "The law requires the county to set priorities," said Hale attorney Rob Riley. "At the top of that list is the office of the sheriff."

But Jefferson County Commissioners who testified in the case say if they can't cut the sheriff's budget by $5 million, the county may be open for more lawsuits.

"IT or somebody who does business with IT could sue us," said Commissioner Jim Carns. "Saying IT was cut more than the sheriff's department. Roads and Transportation was cut more. This is a circular firing squad."

Jim Priester, an attorney representing the commissioners, said in his closing the commission has to follow the balanced budget law and the sheriff should be cut just other important county departments.

Some commissioners say Hale's lawsuit and one filed by a patient representative of Cooper Green Mercy Hospital which seeks to keep that facility from cuts and closing is a waste of tax dollars.

"Instead of filing lawsuits, these people need to help us find ways to get through this crisis," said Commissioner Bobby Humphryes.

Commission President Bettye Fine Collins has said without the budget cuts in the sheriff's department, more employees in other county departments will have to be laid off.

"Ya'll know we can't come up with enough cash without jobs being terminated," said Collins.

Collins has asked Governor Bob Riley to declare a state of emergency because of the county's funding problems. Riley said Thursday he did not have the legal authority to do that.