County looking to pay for more deputiesBy TOM GIAMBRONI/Staff Writer
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LISBON - County commissioners are working on ways to provide the sheriff with the means to hire two deputies without taking the money from the county general fund.
Commissioner Jim Hoppel said one possible solution would be to pay for at least one of the deputies with fee money collected by the sheriff's office for processing foreclosures.
"We're trying to come up with a creative way to add these two deputies," he said.
County Sheriff Ray Stone met in January with commissioners to press for the additional funding needed to hire two more deputies to honor one of his campaign promises made during last year's election. The cost of adding the two deputies is a combined $113,000.
While Hoppel understands the sheriff's office is vastly understaffed compared to other Ohio counties similar in size, he is reluctant to commit general fund money because of the recession.
"Things could get a lot worse this year," he said, adding county sales tax collections were down $20,000 in January compared to January 2008. He also pointed out the recession is forcing some counties to make layoffs, but they haven't had to yet.
Which is why commissioners are looking at alternate sources of funding to pay for the deputies, such as the sheriff's foreclosure account, which ended the year with a $150,000 balance.
The fees come from the 400 to 500 foreclosures filed annually in the county since 2004, which resulted in the previous sheriff assigning three deputies and one clerical person to keep up with the flood of foreclosures that have to be processed in a timely fashion.
Hoppel said if Stone could pay the salary and benefits of one or two of those deputies using foreclosure fees, this would free money in the sheriff's budget to hire the additional help.
Stone doesn't like that idea because some day the number of foreclosures will begin to decline and so will the revenue, forcing him to come up with the money from his regular operating budget or lay off the new deputies. He also is concerned using the foreclosure money for deputies' salaries might not leave him with enough to pay for the clerical worker and supplies necessary to continue processing foreclosures.
"It's a solution, but it's a short-term solution," he said.
But Stone could face the same fate if commissioners pay for the additional deputies out of the general fund and then county sales tax collections take a serious dive if the recession continues to worsen.
The county ended 2008 with a $1.5 million carry-over budget, but appropriated all but $679,000, which will be held in reserve and doled out to officeholders on an as-needed basis. This is the approach commissioners took last year, when they held $700,000 in reserve.
The sheriff's office presumably would be one of those offices in line to receive additional funding since commissioners provided Stone with $33,858 less in his 2009 budget than his department spent last year. Not only that, Stone said he needs an additional $85,000 from commissioners to cover the 3.5 percent contracted pay raises due his union employees in 2009.
Besides, Stone already has plans for the foreclosure money: He intends to use $60,000 of it to purchase three new/used vehicles for each of the deputies who handle foreclosures, with their vehicles moved to the road patrol division to replace older cruisers.
The sheriff's office has a special fund into which certain fees received for serving court papers are deposited, with the money used for the specific purpose of replacing cruisers on a rotating basis. Stone said the problem is the amount generated by these fees - about $40,000 annually -is enough to replace no more than two cruisers annually, and "they're wearing out the cars faster than we can keep up," which is why he turned to the foreclosure funds as a source.
If Stone would get the two additional deputies, one of them would be used to beef up road patrol, while the other would be used to transfer a deputy to the two-man detective bureau, which is is down two detectives.
To demonstrate his need for the additional detective, Stone presented commissioners with figures showing the one detective has 10 active murder/suspicious death cases he is charged with investigating, along with 114 unsolved crimes dating back to 2006.
The other detective, who is assigned mostly to investigate sex crimes, has a backlog of 61 such cases needing investigated dating back to 2007. This deputy also has one homicide and 17 other unsolved crimes he is responsible for solving.
"I understand you have to work within your means, but crime isn't going down," Stone said.
The former Perry Township police chief said most times they have only two deputies on patrol, and they spend all their time responding to calls and serving some of the 2,800 outstanding warrants and other court papers.
"It's ridiculous. In Perry, we had two (officers) going out for 5,000 people, and we only have two deputies for 50,000," he said.
The commissioners have helped the sheriff pay for new equipment. For example, last year, commissioners borrowed $193,000 to purchase a new radio system for the sheriff's office and the deputies' cruisers. The $44,771 in annual loan payments will come from the county general fund and not the sheriff's budget.
Hoppel said they will continue to do what they can to help the sheriff.
"We've proven we're willing to work with them," he said.