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Ramsey County Manager Ryan O'Connor on Thursday imposed financial restrictions on the office of Sheriff Bob Fletcher over increased salary costs that threaten to put the sheriff's 2019 budget $2.5 million in the red.

The Sheriff's Office travel expenses, use of purchasing cards, contracts under $10,000 and business expense reimbursements will now face added scrutiny, O'Connor wrote in a letter to Fletcher.

"Much of the projected budget deficit stems from unsustainable levels of staffing … Compensation costs must immediately be reduced," O'Connor wrote.

Fletcher said Thursday that the salary costs driving his department's projected overrun were a problem he inherited.

On the day he took office, Fletcher said, the Sheriff's Office was 33 full-time equivalents over the budgeted allotment, and 28 of those were from the previous administration.

Fletcher said he's moving correctional officers into vacant sworn-deputy positions as they become available to reduce payroll costs. The transition will reduce the budget shortfall to about $1.3 million by the end of the year, and he expects to meet budget next year. The sheriff's department will spend about $60 million this year.

Fletcher said O'Connor didn't want layoffs, so there was little he could do to address the problem.

"I've been alerting them to this problem since March 11 and they elected to do little about it until they tried to make it a political football in September," said Fletcher.

The financial oversight was welcomed by the Ramsey County Board, with Chairman Jim McDonough telling the sheriff in a letter that his spending habits were "unacceptable."

"No meaningful steps have been taken by your Office to control spending," McDonough wrote.

Financial woes at the Sheriff's Office were first discussed in early August, when Fletcher met with the deputy county manager and the county's chief financial officer to discuss a concerning gap between the sheriff's 2019 budget and actual spending, according to O'Connor's letter.

Salary expenses were "clearly trending in the wrong direction" at that time, according to an Aug. 8 memo from Deputy County Manager Scott Williams.

Fletcher agreed at that time to bring staffing levels within budgeted amounts, O'Connor wrote. But as of this week, O'Connor said, there's no evidence that the sheriff took any meaningful steps to rein in costs.

O'Connor said other departments have had unexpected costs, emergencies or other issues and yet have stayed within budget. The projected overspending is larger than the contingency account the county sets aside for budget challenges, O'Connor added.

Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329