Sheriff outlines concerns about budget cuts for 2004

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Marion County sheriff’s officers, led by Sheriff Lee Becker, came to the Marion County Commission Monday apparently to voice their frustrations about staffing shortfalls while dealing with public questions about the deletion of funds from the sheriff’s budget that could have funded a deputy and a car.

Becker said he is dealing with the budget shortfall by not filling an authorized full-time deputy position that has been worked by using part-time people to fill in.

Commissioners Howard Collett, Bob Hein and Leroy Wetta told Becker they only meant to delete in money the equivalent of $35,000 for a deputy and $25,000 for a car, and that it is up to the sheriff to decide how to deal with personnel and his budget as a result.

“How you manage your budget is immaterial to us,” said Wetta.

“We can allocate you the money,” said Collett, “but how you use it is your discretion.”

Hein said the state budget downsizing and poorer economy has led to the same kinds of hard choices across the state.

“We’re not the only county in this position,” Hein said. “I’ve talked to other counties. It’s just a bad deal for all of us, and we wish it didn’t have to happen.”

Becker said he has to deal with the equivalent of being three officers short on his staff this week-the one not hired, one ill, and another off for family reasons.

The remaining officers have to make six transport trips out of the county this week plus take care of 10 jail inmates, he said.

Becker said the public expects his officers to be ready to meet every expectation 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He said the shortfall was illustrated this week by the turnover of a semi-truck that blocked U.S. Highway 56 at Hillsboro.

“The nearest Kansas highway patrolman was at Council Grove,” he said. “We had to have Hllsboro police and a guy from the lake help us. They were out there four hours.

“We continue to have anhydrous ammonia thefts (used in illegal methamphetamine drug production),” he said. “One of the calls came from the Tampa co-op manager, but we don’t have the time to do things right, and the bad guys know we don’t have the staff.

“Something has to give, or we’re going to start losing the battle quickly.

“When we’re in other counties doing transports, we’re not here doing the investigation time for things like rapes and child molestation.

“If an officer is called over to Goessel, he can be an hour getting back here to feed the jail inmates.

“If we can’t maintain the jail because we don’t have enough help, we may have to farm inmates out to other counties, like Chase County.”

Becker acknowledged that a lowering of the inmate population to five or less would ease the situation, but keeping 10 or more would be a challenge, especially if some staff is out of action in the future like they are this week.

After he repeated the possibility of farming inmates out to other counties, Collett said, “It can cost us up to $300 a day to take inmates to another jail. Are you saying you are going to make cost overruns we have to meet? It sounds like a veiled threat to me.”

Becker said the bottom line is he probably isn’t going to be able to meet the 6 percent budget reduction the commissioners asked for this year.

Wetta said the main thing would be to get Becker’s help in surviving the budget crunch.

“We expect your cooperation,” Wetta said. “We don’t intend to get you over here and try to lecture you about your budget.”

Collett added, “Just do the best you can. We all have to pull together. We’re going to go through hard times no matter where we go.”

Becker said it has become impossible to meet the 6 percent cut this year, and any increase in the prisoner population will further bust the budget, and strain his staff.

Michele Abbott-Becker, director of communications and emergency, handed the commissioners their three-hole-binder copies of the Local Emergency Planning Committee plan. The committee was chaired by Hein. The commissioners must read the plan before copies are released to 30 other county leaders.

Gerald Kelsey, road and bridge director, told Mr. and Mrs. Carl Stovall he will help them develop access to their fields in a situation where construction of a lagoon by another land owner has blocked passage on an old road easement on Ulysses Road at 250th.

Stovall said he would be willing to provide $500 of his own funds to help the county “put the road back the way it was.”

Kelsey announced the hiring of Kerry Maag as department secretary to succeed Bonnie Smith.

The commissioners went into executive session for 50 minutes to review 12 applications to succeed JoAnn Knaak, who is retiring as emergency medical services director at the end of the year.

The commissioners will interview finalists Friday. Hiring the top candidate soon after that should give Knaak time to help instruct the new person.

County Clerk Carol Maggard said notice has been received from the state that it is increasing mileage from 33 cents to 36 cents a mile. The commissioners tabled any decision about raising county mileage.

Collett said, “Even if gas is going up, I can’t see authorizing any further expenses for us this year.”

The commissioners authorized acceptance of a bid received by Maggard from McCune Paper
Co. at Salina for a split delivery of 80 boxes of copy for $1,787. Alternative bids were, on single delivery: $1,788 from Sunflower Office Products, Newton, $1,824 from Dick’s Business Machines, Emporia, and $1,896 from Navrat’s Office Products, Emporia.

Noreen Weems, director of the department for the elderly, gave a monthly report, and commissioners reviewed her budget and mill levy requests.

She said Oct. 16 has been approved as the date for the 43rd annual meeting at the Hillsboro Senior Center.

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