Updated Thu, Jul 25, 2013 4:19 pm
Sheriff Patrick Kelly wants the county prosecutor's office to explain the basis behind its opinion that he can't use funds generated by the Athens County Sheriff's Academy for other purposes.
The issue arose after the county auditor's office refused to pay bills for supplies, gasoline and partial payment for an undercover car. The bills were submitted by the sheriff's office for payment from excess academy funds.
The academy is a police basic training class operated by the sheriff's office. Tuition supports the program and, after all academy bills were paid, there was $12,000 left over, according to Kelly. It's that money that Kelly wants to spend for other purposes.
County Auditor Jill Thompson said she questioned the bills because the purchases do not seem to be related to the Sheriff's Academy, but rather to general operations of the sheriff's office. Some of those bills are labeled "academy supplies" or "restock supplies for academy."
Thompson asked Kelly for a copy of his office's policy regarding expenditures from the academy fund. The policy he provided says that any money beyond what is needed for operation of the academy can be spent for law enforcement related expenses and any expense the sheriff deems necessary for performance of official duties or furtherance of justice.
Thompson then asked County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn if the policy would allow payment of the bills.
In a written response, Assistant Prosecutor Merry Saunders told Thompson that, based on research and contact Saunders had with the Ohio State Auditor's Office, the money can only be spent for operation of the academy and Kelly can't adopt a policy expanding the allowable uses.
In a letter dated Wednesday to Blackburn, Kelly states that he contacted accountants who indicated they cannot understand the reasoning behind Saunders' position on the matter. Kelly asks Blackburn to provide him with any state auditor's opinions, correspondence and research Saunders relied upon, and any opinions and laws prohibiting a policy that would allow use of excess academy funds for other law enforcement purposes.
Kelly told The Messenger he wants to know if there are any Ohio attorney general or state auditor opinions that disallow use of the money.
The topic came up at Thursday's meeting of the Athens County Commissioners, who authorized purchase of the undercover car using other funds from the sheriff's office.
Commission President Lenny Eliason said the academy money is in an enterprise fund, and can only be spent on the enterprise — in this case, the Sheriff's Academy. Eliason gave the hypothetical example of trying to use money paid by customers of The Plains Water and Sewer District to buy supplies for the commissioners office — it's not allowed.
However, Eliason said Kelly has the option of closing the academy account, after which the money would go into the county general fund and the commissioners could appropriate it back to the sheriff's office for other uses. If the sheriff wants to have another academy, then a new fund could be established, Eliason said.
Kelly said he will wait to get Blackburn's response, but in the meantime if an urgent need arises for the money he will follow the option cited by Eliason.
"I spend more time fighting a system than I do helping the people of Athens County. It's frustrating," Kelly told the commissioners.