MOUNT VERNON — In a tense but civil preliminary budget meeting with the county commissioners, Knox County Sheriff David Barber made a surprise move to support his department personally, out of his own bank account, if need be.
Barber announced Thursday he would like to transfer $5,000 out of the budget line item for his own salary and into line items for deputy salaries. He said that his employees have “taken it on the chin,” deferring a portion of their comp-time cash-outs until 2010. Now that year-end budget adjustments are finding some shortfalls for the last few pays of the year, Barber said he wanted to step up.
“As a person who has asked for solidarity, I can’t ask them to accept reductions in pay without taking a reduction myself,” Barber said.
Since $29,000 is already planned to be drawn from a $50,000 account which keeps the county’s share of income from carrying a concealed weapon permits (CCW) and electronic background check services, Commissioner Teresa Bemiller asked Barber if the additional $5,000 couldn’t come from there instead of coming from him, personally.
Barber said that he chose to do it this way, and would prefer the $5,000 be left in the CCW account to help the 2010 budget. Assistant County Prosecutor Charles McConville was called into the meeting to clarify that Barber would not be allowed to make the transfer out of his salary line item, but that if he wished to write a check from his own bank account and give it to the county along with instructions that it be earmarked for application to certain line items in his budget, he could do so. Barber said that he would write a $5,000 check and submit an explanatory cover letter with copies to the county auditor, the prosecutor and the commissioners.
As for the 2010 budget negotiations, few numbers were discussed. Much of the discussion centered upon actions of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 147, an organization independent of both the sheriff’s office and the Fraternal Order of Police. The lodge members, many of whom are employees of the sheriff’s office, have been distributing fliers and placing media advertisements which warn of possible service cuts, scale-backs and delays if the budget is reduced the full 20 percent commissioners have requested.
Commissioner Allen Stockberger described the FOP lodge’s actions as “unfortunate,” adding that it appeared to him that the public statements, flierss and advertisements were an attempt to create an atmosphere of paranoia. Barber denied any direct involvement in the Lodge’s actions, stressing that he is a member of neither union nor lodge, and that even if some of his employees were involved, none of their actions were done in uniform on county time.
“I want to emphasize what the lodge is doing is not the sheriff’s office,” Barber said.
Stockberger moved on to the previously agreed-upon 3 percent raise due to the FOP this year. Stockberger said that if the union insists upon taking it, the raise will cost $70,000.
Barber said that last year’s 3 percent raise was lost to furlough days required by this year’s budget squeeze. He said that no other county employees got hit that hard. Stockberger disagreed, pointing out offices that have eliminated jobs. Barber rephrased his statement but said that he still thought there was a difference between what his department has endured and what others have endured.
The next item discussed was community policing contracts, where the commissioners said that there had been an issue they were alerted to by the county auditor’s office. In discussion, it turned out that the issue in question — overtime pay for deputies working on patrol in communities who pay the sheriff’s office for this service — had already been settled, and the communities of Gambier and Centerburg had both been billed for the overtime and both had paid. Barber said that he was getting very tired of hearing about issues through the commissioners or other sources. He said that instead of outside offices embellishing the situation, they ought to pick up the phone and give him a call first.
The sheriff reported that discussions have begun with officials in Washington, D.C., about temporarily housing federal inmates in Knox County. Barber said the U.S. Marshals Service expressed some interest, but that the whole process would take three to four months, and that it wouldn’t be wise to budget on any money coming from that source.
Stockberger asked about an alleged recent case where the Knox County Jail supposedly turned down a request to house some prisoners from Fairfield County.
Barber said that it was simply a miscommunication. Normally, one jail coordinator will call the other, but in this situation, a sergeant from Fairfield County is said to have called a staff member at the Knox County Jail and asked if Knox could house 10 female prisoners. The staff person, knowing that six of Knox’s 12 beds set aside for female inmates were already full, said that five could be housed, but the staffer from Fairfield County never called back to follow up and see if other arrangements could be made, such as turning over an otherwise empty dorm for use housing female prisoners. Barber said that his office was looking at ways to streamline communication so that revenue opportunities would not be lost in the future.
Stockberger said that some FOP Lodge members were still saying that the investigator into crimes against children was going to be cut in budget reductions. Stockberger said that this isn’t true because that employee is paid with funds from children’s services. Barber said that he would, however, be among the first to be laid off if any employees were, because he had low seniority in the FOP. Stockberger said that in that scenario, the investigator’s job would be completely removed from the sheriff’s office and reassigned to the Department of Job and Family Services.
It was finally decided to discontinue the meeting until the commissioners could recalculate numbers based on the completion of preliminary discussions with all other departments.
“We want you to know that we are taking this seriously,” said Bemiller. “I’ve been upset with some of the comments that have been made in the community as if we don’t care about the sheriff’s office. We do care, and that’s why we saved this for last.”
Commissioner Robert Wise encouraged the sheriff to express caution to his employees who are in the FOP Lodge.
“There are township officials and other people out there who are feeling intimidated by your officers,” Wise said. “That’s turning some people against you.”
Lt. David Shaffer asked what was the bottom line he could give to employees when they returned to the office.
Bemiller said that the cuts everyone is taking are helping, and that the whole situation was beginning to look better.
“We still believe we can work through this without layoffs,” Stockberger said.
“We certainly hope so,” said Barber.
A final preliminary budget meeting has been scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 12.