MOUNT VERNON — Sheriff David Barber met with the Knox County Board of Commissioners on Monday to continue hammering out a budget reduction agreement necessitated by the county’s revenue shortfall. Barber said avoiding layoffs was his No. 1 priority, perhaps through employee furloughs.
The furlough idea would depend upon the cooperation of the Fraternal Order of Police union, a representative of which will be meeting with Barber this week to discuss options. The sheriff’s office is being asked to find $200,000 in savings to return to the county’s general fund, and it could take as much as an estimated 15 furlough days per employee to make up the difference.
Barber cited an incident which happened Friday at the jail, when an inmate attempted to hang himself in his cell. The incident was seen and stopped by a member of the jail staff. With fewer staff members on hand, such incidents cannot be prevented, said Barber.
Barber added that Lt. Richard Brenneman was in discussions with the U.S. Marshal’s Service about renting bed space at the Knox County Jail for federal prisoners, who would then be transported to federal courts in larger cities for trial. Although the sheriff’s office would handle the transports, in this scenario the federal department would reimburse the county for expenses, something the marshals were unwilling to do in 2002 when the facility first opened. Revenue from housing these prisoners could help the county’s budget situation.
In other business, Knox County Parks District Director Kim Marshall informed the commissioners of a problem with severe erosion on the Mohican Valley Trail near Tiger Valley Road. Marshall said she was advised by contractor Mel Troyer, who has performed other work on the county’s trails, that the trail needs to be crowned with some adjacent ditching in order to achieve positive drainage.
Doug Givens, president of the Philander Chase Corp., met with the commissioners to inform them that the county’s nomination for the state’s agricultural easement program, the farm of Jerry and Elizabeth Mickley on Howard-Danville Road, was unexpectedly successful, being selected to receive a permanent easement prohibiting non-agricultural development of the 600-acre farm. Commissioner Allen Stockberger noted that Knox County has had so much success in recent years getting lands designated with ag easements that it was thought other counties would be able to outperform Knox in the ratings this year.
What benefited the county, however, was its reclassification into the southeastern Ohio quadrant of the state. This put Knox up against counties with far less prime farm land, allowing the Mickley farm to win.
Mickley said he is grateful for the selection, but is concerned about the future of farms.
“I wish there would be more done to preserve farmland,” Mickley said, noting that he hated to see precious farmland being divided up into 2- to 5-acre plots. Such plots are too small for significant farming, yet homeowners on such sites often become tired of mowing that much grass, Mickley said, letting the land go unused when it could be used for growing food.
Stockberger said this application allowed the county to take advantage of an unexpected opportunity to further preserve the rural nature of the area.
“I think it’s safe to say we wouldn’t have gotten it if we hadn’t been poised and ready,” Stockberger said, citing Givens’ advice, which has made Knox County one of the most active farmland preservers in the state.