Sheriff Ray Stone, like every other sheriff before him, believes that his department is understaffed. We believe he's right. In fact, a Morning Journal study conducted several years ago determined that the Columbiana County Sheriff's Department staff was less than half the average-sized staff of the six other Ohio counties closest to us in population.
There are 20 officers on staff, but this includes Stone, the chief deputy, two detectives, the deputy assigned to the jail and three deputies assigned to the civil division. That leaves only 12 deputies available to actually patrol county roads - hardly enough to keep the residents of our largely rural county safe.
The problem is, as it has always been, money. This year, however, unlike most years, the county had a healthy $1.5 million carryover balance from 2008. That's $400,000 more than last year's carryover from 2007.
County commissioners have decided they will use a portion of that carryover to fund repairs for the courthouse and jail and also decided to spend $110,000 of it to fund the 4-H program, the county fair board and the soil and water conservation district. We all know it is necessary to maintain the courthouse and jail. And, since the 4-H, county fair board and SWCD were left out of the initial funding awarded for 2009, it was nice commissioners were able to give them a portion of the carryover pie.
We believe, however, that the sheriff's department should also be considered for some additional funding. It has been estimated that a deputy position costs the county approximately $50,000. Isn't there a way to squeeze out an additional $100,000 to give Sheriff Stone the two deputies he has requested? We have seen an alarming increase in home break-ins, mostly in rural areas. These crimes are most likely being fueled by the growing drug problem in our area and of course, the economic downturn.
We've finally finished paying off the loan necessitated by the Strabala investment scandal, so the county should have an extra $356,000 from that, although half of that savings has been wiped out due to a $178,000 cut in the county's 2009 state Local Government Fund allocation. We still believe that an extra $100,000 for the sheriff's department would be the wisest way to spend the money.
Of course, Stone would have to know that if the local economy worsens even more, which it may, his new hires would probably be the first in line to be furloughed.
In the meantime, county residents would feel safer with the added protection.