Commissioners resist budget pleas from sheriff’s office

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BRENDA CONYERS
Marion County commissioners opened Monday’s meeting with a full house seated around the commission table for the 2002 budget hearing.


Marion County Sheriff Lee Becker, Deputy Dean Keyes, Deputy Randy Brazil and dispatchers were present to question proposed cuts made by the commission to next year’s budget.


Commissioners had previously cut funding for two new vehicles for the sheriff’s department, voicing their concern that cars have been traded with too low of mileage.


Becker asked commissioners to reconsider the two vehicles.


“We need to keep the two cars,” he said. “Running police cars over 100,000 miles puts too much stress on the components, putting officers and the public at risk.”


He also told commissioners 100,000 miles on the odometer does not reflect the actual use of the car. He said there are times the cars are left idling when a situation calls for it, and a type of “use-clock” would more accurately reveal the wear and tear on the car.


Chairman Leroy Wetta told Becker, “Our goal was not to raise the mill levy. Everyone was hurt.”


“We need to move forward, not backward,” Becker said. He then told commissioners having a high-mileage car has the potential of increasing response time.


“If you have a call across the county,” he said, “it takes about 45 minutes to get over there. You are on the way when a hose breaks. You have to call someone else who has to start. You have lost valuable time.”


Deputy Brazil agreed with Becker, saying vehicles with high mileage end up spending more time in the repair shop.


“We have excellent equipment and excellent personnel right now,” Brazil said. He said he hoped the commissioners would reconsider.


Commissioner Bob Hein said he had spoken with a commissioner from McPherson County who said he was surprised cars were traded in with such low mileage.


“They say they trade theirs in at about 130,000,” Hein said.


“We are just asking you to manage your budget on this many dollars,” Wetta said. “Nothing is written in stone.”


“That’s what I needed to know,” Becker said. “Just that nothing is written in stone.”


The discussion then turned to dispatchers who had requested an additional person to work during high volume times, and consideration of shift differential.


Commissioners had decided to offer the differential, but not to include an additional dispatcher.


Speaking on behalf of dispatchers, Becker said more officers were being put on night duty from local departments as well as the sheriff’s department. This increases radio traffic in addition to the increased number of phone calls being taken in due to the number of cell phones.


“It used to be they would get a couple of calls to report an accident,” Becker said. “But now they get five calls, and each one must be answered and questions asked.”


Lori Leeders, dispatcher, told commissioners that thanks to cell phones, they had already had an increase of more than 12,000 telephone calls this year.


“We are trying to give 100 percent to everyone,” Leeders said, “but something is going to give.”


Leeders also told commissions that in addition to law enforcement radio traffic, the communication department must also handle calls for the ambulances, fire trucks, rescue trucks, and the Kansas Department of Transportation.


“We answer to all of them,” she said. “Sometimes it gets very hard.


Dispatcher Linda Kinney agreed with Leeder that with the number of calls coming in, and often having several situations going on at the same time, it created high-stress periods. And in addition to the radio calls and recording the calls, dispatchers were expected to conduct jail checks and keep track of weather watches.


“We certainly understand your stresses,” Wetta told the group, “and we appreciate what you are going through. We wish we could put in enough people to do your job more efficiently, and be more generous with our giving.”


Becker pointed out the cost of a new dispatcher was 0.5 percent of the Road and Bridge budget.


“The dispatchers would give up the shift differential to have another dispatcher,” he said. “They really want to put their best foot forward.”


“If we could have, we would have funded everything,” Hein told Becker.


In one last attempt, Kinney told commissioners she had seen a change in the type of calls the office was receiving.


In the past, calls about cows being out were common. Now, they were receiving more calls involving weapons.


The commission voted 3-0 to approve the proposed 2002 budget with no changes.


In other business, JoAnn Knak, Emergency Medical Services director, reported the department has received 100 more calls this year than during the same time last year.


Sheriff Becker appeared before the commission a second time to discuss a proposed change in meal providers for prisoners.


At an earlier meeting Becker told commissioners he had found another facility which would charge nearly half of what was being charged the department at the present time.


After a short discussion, commissioners Howard Collett and Wetta said they felt bids should be taken on the food service.


Shelley Abbott-Becker, director of local emergency preparedness, told commissioners the City of Hillsboro and KC Development had worked out a plan beneficial to both parties for the removal of debris from a recent fire which damaged city equipment and a building.


Abbott-Becker told commissioners KC Development will provide the truck, the City of Hillsboro will provide personnel, and KC will haul debris away.


She said salvage could be sold, which would reimburse KC development for gas and mileage.


“He won’t make any money, but at least they will break even,” she said. “It is a good arrangement for both sides.”


Linda Peterson appeared before the commission a second week on behalf Leslie Kitchenmaster of Lost Springs, who is requesting use of county trucks to haul material he will provide to do road repair and give him access to oil wells needing repairs.


Kitchenmaster is also asking the county to provide a one-time thin layer of rock to go over the shale since it becomes slick when wet.


Hein said he had not looked at the road in question, but had received a number of calls from people saying, “If you do it for him, when are you going to do mine?”


“I am still not ready to cross that bridge,” Wetta said.


Peterson asked Hein if any of the other people making requests were willing to provide the materials and not ask the county to continue maintenance work on their requests.


Gerald Kelsey, superintendent of the Road and Bridge Department, said Kitchenmaster is offering material which will make a better base for the road.


Collett made the motion to offer the use of county trucks and truck drivers, with Kitchenmaster paying for base material and rock. It would be understood the county will not maintain the road in the future.


The motion passed 2-1 with Hein dissenting.

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