Council questions Sheriff over commissary funds
WANDA ENGLISH BURNETT PHOTO
While there were several transfers, additional appropriations and even a reduction of appropriations to vote on at the Ripley County Council meeting held Monday night, December 19, most of the hour-long meeting was spent talking to the Sheriff about commissary money.
Council President Ron Decker questioned whether a $90,000 gift to the Indiana Sheriff’s Youth Ranch actually was allowed by the State Board of Accounts.
Sheriff Jeff Cumberworth was at the meeting and assured Decker the money he had allocated out of commissary was indeed a legal transfer. He said the money was given in January of 2022 and will go toward a training facility at the Ranch in memory of Paul Wells, a dedicated employee of the local sheriff’s department who had passed away.
The Sheriff explained some things about the Sheriff’s Youth Ranch saying over 1500 kids use this, along with officers for a variety of trainings. He said the Department of Homeland Security also uses the facility. “I know where this complaint came from,” the Sheriff continued.
Decker said, “We’re not trying to beat up on you,” but said they needed to understand why the money was sent to a facility in Brazil (Indiana) that no kids from Ripley County have even used.
Sheriff Cumberworth said kids from the county can certainly go to the camp and deputies can train there. He also noted that the commissary money is not taxpayers dollars with the sheriff having sole authority for the funds without getting approval from the Council.
Since 2017 the Ripley County Sheriff has supported the Youth Ranch program by giving money. It has never been such a high amount, but they have given to the project.
Some councilmembers felt it would have been best if the sheriff had used the funds in Ripley County rather than on the Ranch. They asked him how much was left in the commissary fund for the incoming sheriff, which is Rob Bradley. Sheriff Cumberworth said as of December 19, 2022, there was $132,000 in the fund. He also noted that there are specific guidelines for the commissary money.
Sheriff Cumberworth told The Versailles Republican when he took office in 2015 the commissary fund was $28,079.00 with a debt owed to the fund of $8,000 that was never paid back. He said he grew the fund with a different approach and felt they had given back a lot to the county. From 2017-2022 the Sheriff has been able to purchase nine vehicles ($325,000) equipment for vehicles ($70,930) and office equipment ($64,260).
The Sheriff stood by his decision with Decker saying, “I know you’re upset.” Sheriff Cumberworth said, “I would not give the money to someone I couldn’t give to. I know you (three council members- Peg Ehlers, David Tebbing and Decker) had a special meeting about this.”
Council denied having a ‘special’ meeting but said the three of them did meet up to discuss the money.
Attorney John Ertel said it would have been nice to see the money spent in Ripley County. He asked for documentation from the State Board of Accounts concerning the money transfer saying the way he reads the law there could be a problem.
Ehlers said she felt a responsibility to the oath she had taken to be diligent with the county’s money and to know it was properly used.
The Sheriff said he wasn’t doing anything many other sheriffs haven’t done to get the Ranch up and running and keep it going for the good of the entire State. He said he would never do anything illegal.