JAY, Okla. (AP) -- Delaware County Sheriff Jim Earp will have to wait until later this week to find out whether county commissioners can help him with his budgetary shortfall.
Commissioners on Monday wanted to help Earp when they were told they had to wait until Thursday when the county's budget is formally approved.
The Sheriff's Office has already spent half of this fiscal year's budget, and also shows a deficit of more than $72,000. The fiscal year began July 1 and ends June 30, 2001.
The money problem is so severe that the Sheriff's Office last week reportedly began releasing inmates with misdemeanor offenses from the jail to save money on feeding costs.
Earp is not seeking re-election next week and, because of that, state law says he must keep the next half-year's funding intact for the new sheriff.
The Sheriff's Office received $328,142 in temporary appropriations to use from July 1 through Jan. 1. The budget for the Sheriff's Office as of Thursday actually stands at $265,063, leaving a $63,079 deficit for the county to assume.
Commissioners would not say how they planned to make up the $63,079 deficit when the budget is approved Thursday.
Bruce Poindexter, commissioner for District 1, said he wanted to wait until prosecutors spoke with the state Attorney General's Office and the state auditor's office on the correct interpretations of the state statutes.
But State Auditor Clifton Scott said the sheriff was only allowed to spend half of the temporary appropriation' funds and half of the sheriff's service fee account, which is a cash account made up of funds collected from fines and housing inmates for other jurisdictions.
According to the county clerk's records Monday, Earp has spent $9,472 more than he currently has in his cash accounts. That brings Earp's total deficit to $72,551.
Earp, in his plea to county commissioners, said he bought cars out of his budget because he thought he had the money.
"We wouldn't have bought $40,000 in cars if we knew the accounts were under the 50 percent," the sheriff said.
But Scott also noted that if the sheriff used those funds to buy equipment and cars, then he was in direct violation of the statue, which states that no funds can be used by a sheriff who is not seeking re-election to buy equipment and cars.
"That is a violation all on its own, in addition to spending over half of the temporary appropriations," Scott said. "When we get the report, we'll recommend the appropriate action to the District Attorney's Office, and it will be up to them as to what to do with the sheriff."
Earp denied that he has been releasing inmates from the jail, but Poindexter said if inmates were released, it was done for overcrowding.
Several police officials from neighboring cities said they were called by the Sheriff's Office last week and told that their city inmates being held in the county jail were being released because of lack of money for food.
Some of them said they would have to look to other counties to house their prisoners.