Controversy surrounding the office of prosecuting attorney in Faulkner County continues this week, following a recent revision of the prosecutor’s 2011 budget proposal.
In a bid for re-election earlier this month, 20th Judicial Prosecuting Attorney Marcus Vaden was defeated by opponent Cody Hiland.
Vaden had originally submitted a budget proposal to the Faulkner County Quorum Court totaling about $788,000. Following the election, he submitted a revised budget including about $276,000 in line item cuts.
"Originally, I submitted a budget based on me having the Drug Crime Task Force, and after the election, obviously that changed," Vaden said.
Vaden declined to mention names, but said he was asked by county employees working on the budget to "cut costs" and resubmit his budget.
"They just said, ‘Look, we know what you asked for, but does the prosecutor’s office have to have that much money, and is there anything that can be cut?’," Vaden said. "I didn’t think that (Hiland) intended to keep the drug task force, and some of the other police agencies have what they need to operate, so I cut two investigator’s positions and just some of the things that go along with that."
Hiland said he believes that the significant amount of money cut from the budget represented more than just a "tweak" to save money.
"I’m not passing judgement on the merit of the cuts, but any time a budget has been cut by almost a third, it raises a red flag for me," Hiland said.
Hiland also said contrary to the belief of many, he has no plans to "do away with" the Drug Crime Task Force.
"I plan on keeping the task force," Hiland said. "I don’t know that that was ever a public campaign issue — we are going to look at the reorganization of it, but it is too important to Van Buren and Searcy counties to do away with it."
Faulkner County Judge Preston Scroggin said he believes that there is nothing "sinister" going on with the prosecutor’s budgetary process or those involved in its development.
"Every department pads their budget," Scroggin said. "(Vaden) had upped his budget and my understanding was that when projections came in he was asked to make some cuts, and that’s just a part of everyday business."
County Treasurer Regina Oakley said Monday the county General Fund, which funds the prosecutor's office, was in good shape for 2011.
"There are times when my projections and people’s budgets don’t match up, and I do have to send some back," Oakley said. "The prosecuting attorney’s budget comes from the county’s General Fund, and so far our county General looks OK, so I didn’t have to send any of those budgets back from 2011."
Hiland recently submitted a third budget proprosal to the court’s budget committee for about $777,000, which the committee approved last week.
(Staff writer Megan Reynolds can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 501-505-1277. To comment on this story and others, visit www.thecabin.net)