Friday, September 4, 2009

More Bad News For Columbiana County!!

I cannot understand why everyone isn't in an uproar about this. It is absolutely ridiculous that this is happening to our Sheriff's Department! Public safety is essential and we need funding shifted here. Pretty soon, there will be no deputies on the road. Come on us out here!!

Sheriff Stone concerned with funding
POSTED: September 3, 2009 Save | Print | Email | Read comments | Post a comment Email: "Sheriff Stone concerned with funding"
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LISBON - Columbiana County commissioners knew this was coming.

After providing the same amount of funding to the sheriff's office in 2009 as was spent last year, commissioners were recently advised by Sheriff Ray Stone he needs $150,000 more in October or he will be forced to lay off staff.

"God forbid I should need to lay anyone off, but if I do, I need to know now," Stone said. "And we can't afford to lay anyone off. We're a skeleton crew now. How much less can you get than two deputies a shift?"

When commissioners adopted the 2009 county general fund budget, they provided Stone with $2.3 million - the same amount of money the sheriff's office spent in 2008. Stone needed an additional $85,000 in 2009 just to meet the 3.5 percent contracted pay raises due union employees.

Stone said his office has also been hit with additional costs because of a policy change instituted in 2007 requiring the sheriff's office to retrieve every felon indicted in this county who is caught in another state, regardless of the crime. Before the change, the decision on who to extradite was made on a case-by-case basis because of the cost.

Each trip costs about $3,000 when you factor in airline tickets for two deputies and the prisoner, hotel stay, meals and rental car. This also drives up overtime costs to cover for the deputies when they are away. Stone said they had 36 such trips all of last year but are on pace to reach 50 in 2009.

To cover the budget shortfall for employee wages and retirement benefits, Stone has been transferring funds around. For instance, gas prices are significantly less this year, resulting in a surplus in that account that was used elsewhere, but his ability to continue doing so has come to an end.

All of this comes at a time when the number of calls being handled by the sheriff's office has exploded. For whatever reason, Stone said they have responded in person on 3,124 calls as of Aug. 27 - an increase of 38 percent over the same period the year before.

Commissioners said they are waiting for the latest monthly budget report from the auditor's office to get a clearer picture of the county's financial status. "What we told Sheriff Stone ... is we are taking a look at the revenue and expenditures, and we're taking it one day at a time, mindful that our Local Government Fund is down $363,000," said Commission Chairman Penny Traina.

She was referring to the $363,000 cut from the commissioners' 2009 allocation of state LGF money. The cut came in July and represented money that was already being counted on in the 2009 budget.

Not only that, but revenue generated by the two county sales taxes has begun to drop. After increasing between January and May, collections for June, July and August dropped by a combined $358,500, leaving sales tax collections $56,000 behind budget estimates for the entire year.

"If this keeps up, we could lose another $400,000" from the budget, Commissioner Jim Hoppel said of the sales tax drop.

Commissioners do have $511,000 left over from the $1.5 million 2008 carry-over balance. Commissioners appropriated much of the balance except for $679,000, which they held in reserve to spend throughout the year on an as-needed basis. The figure is currently down to $511,000.

Stone is mindful of the county's financial predicament and the fact he is probably not the only officeholder seeking additional funding, which is why he isn't being pushy. But Stone said he just needs an answer soon so he can make the appropriate moves to stay within his budget.

"I think this time of year everyone comes in trying to get a piece of that pie," he said.

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