GOVERNOR PATRICK SIGNS BILL TO STREAMLINE COUNTY SHERIFF SYSTEM
Changes will result in annual savings up to $10 million
"This change will promote a more efficient, consistent and transparent budgeting system to reform the costly and unpredictable county system that's currently in place," said Governor Patrick. "I thank the Sheriffs and the legislature for their work on this bill."
"This reform takes away the current operational guessing game that county sheriffs go through every year when developing their budgets," Senate President Therese Murray said. "It's an important functional change that will simplify and stabilize the process and end up saving taxpayers millions of dollars."
"This bill will bring consistency and efficiency to the sheriffs' system in Massachusetts while reducing the burden on taxpayers in local communities," said Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo. "In these difficult fiscal times, I am proud that the legislature has found substantial savings for our Commonwealth."
The seven county sheriffs affected by this change include Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Nantucket, Norfolk, Plymouth and Suffolk, all of which are currently funded under an outdated system that includes multiple funding sources. The most volatile funding source is the deeds excise tax, which has dramatically declined as the housing market has suffered during the nationwide recession.
"The Massachusetts Sheriffs' Association strongly supports this legislation," said Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral, who is also President of the Massachusetts Sheriffs' Association. "We worked closely with the Governor's Office to craft a bill that saves taxpayer money and eliminates the budget uncertainty that has plagued half of the state's sheriffs every fiscal year."
Transferring the sheriffs' 3,000 employees into the state's healthcare program, run by the Group Insurance Commission, will generate the bulk of the savings. The employees will also be transferred into the state pension system. The Governor first proposed the legislation as part of his Fiscal Year 2009 budget proposal.
"Transferring the county sheriffs' offices will save taxpayers millions by reducing healthcare costs and establishing a reliable method to build annual operating budgets," said Senator Brian A. Joyce, lead Senate sponsor of the bill and chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. "We need to continue to find ways to deliver core government services more cost-effectively."
"With this legislation, we plot the responsible course, thereby allowing our sheriffs to focus on what really matters - rehabilitating those members of society who have fallen off the path and will one day be back amongst the general public," said Charles A. Murphy, Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means.
"This legislation will promote more efficient government by transferring the remaining seven county sheriffs and their employees to the Commonwealth," said Chairman Steven Walsh. "This much needed reform will allow for predictable budgeting for each sheriff's office and the ability to provide employee health insurance at a significant savings, while holding harmless the existing County Governments."
Massachusetts has 14 County Sheriff departments that perform similar functions. Under the current structure, seven county sheriff departments operate on a separate accounting system while receiving state funding. However, for more than a decade, the other seven sheriff departments have operated under the state accounting system including payroll, health care and retirement.
In FY 2007, the Governor recommended, and the Legislature funded, $17 million in supplemental funding to meet county sheriffs' needs. In FY 2008, the state provided $25 million in supplemental funding, and in FY 2009 the state provided $32 million. Over the last eight fiscal years, those supplemental appropriations amounted to at least $83.5 million. The legislation signed today will reduce or prevent the need for supplemental appropriations.
While the legislation will transfer the county sheriff departments to the state system, it will not abolish the remaining seven county governments or interfere with existing sheriffs' programs, such as providing fire dispatch services to municipalities. The transition will take effect January 1, 2010.