Sheriff gets OK to seek funding for more deputiesBy TOM GIAMBRONI Staff Writer
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LISBON - Columbiana County Sheriff Ray Stone was authorized to seek federal stimulus money that could add three deputies to his roster.
In what was described as a compromise, county commissioners gave Stone permission at Wednesday's meeting to apply for two federal grants that would provide funding to hire the exta deputies.
"We certainly don't want to pass up the opportunity to pursue this money to help the sheriff's office," said Commission Chairman Penny Traina.
"Anytime you can add positions to the sheriff's office at no cost you should take advantage of it," said Commissioner Dan Bing.
The decision came one week after Stone approached commissioners seeking permission to apply for federal funding to add two deputies. The decision was deferred a week while commissioners studied the programs.
In the end, Stone was authorized to seek a grant through the Community Oriented Policing Service (COPS) program to pay the entire costs of two deputies - $56,500 each, including health insurance -for three years. He is seeking a second grant through the federal rural communities policing program, which would pay for another two deputy positions for two years.
If both grant requests are approved, Stone said he would amend his COPS grant to accept funding for only one position rather than two, for a net gain of three deputies. The reason is the COPS grant comes with strings attached, while the rural police grant does not.
Under the COPS program, commissioners would be required to pick up the entire cost of keeping the deputies on staff after the grant expired in the fourth year. The sheriff's office also must maintain the same staffing levels -currently 19 deputies-the entire time while receiving the grant, and the COPS money would be pulled if there are layoffs during that period due to a decline in county revenue.
There are no such restrictions under the rural communities police grant.
Stone has been lobbying commissioners for additional funding to hire two deputies since being elected last November, saying the staffing shortage has resulted in a backlog of unsolved crimes in his detective division and minimal road patrol coverage.
After being turned down several times by commissioners, Stone decided last month to fill a vacancy in the detective division by appointing a deputy to the position, leaving them short on road patrol.
Stone said the three extra positions would go a long way toward giving him some scheduling flexibility so there would be more than one deputy on patrol during vacation periods or when someone calls off sick. He said the detectives could focus on investigating crimes instead of transporting jail inmates to and from court appearances because of the deputy shortage.
"It would just help all the way around," he said of the additional deputies.
Another restriction of the COPS grant is it doesn't cover any regular pay raises due the new deputies during the three-year period. The union contract entitles the deputies to annual pay raises and step increases based on time of service, which Stone said would total an estimated $25,000 over the three years for the two new deputies.
Should they receive only COPS funding, Stone said he agreed to cover the $25,000 cost by taking the money out of the account where fees are received by the sheriff's office for processing foreclosure sales. This account has a $150,000 balance, and commissioners wanted Stone to use the money to hire his extra deputies but he declined, saying it was an unreliable source of income should foreclosures begin to decline or the Obama Administration enact a moratorium.