The following letter was recieved by Cable 12 from the Office of the Sheriff on Tuesday May 19th.
I first would like to say thank you to all the employees of the office of the Sheriff of Franklin County and its citizens. I am writing in order to express my disappointment in the conversation generated in our most recent Franklin County Board of Supervisors meeting. We are living in turbulent times and law enforcement now more than ever is under attack. For the board to undercut our law enforcement efforts in a budget year which realized no new tax increase or significant budget increase as to request, which has been the case over the past four years, the appearance of this action raises concern. Having been involved with multiple budget work sessions, I had not before been asked or approached about any of the issues that have been raised by the Board of Supervisors this past Tuesday. The budget issues that the board sought clarity on could have been addressed long before the night of the proposed vote of this year’s budget, in any of these work sessions. I wanted to take the opportunity to address those issues which were raised and provide some clarity for the citizens of Franklin County.
During their discussion of the budget for the Office of the Sheriff, the Board began to express issues in the justifications of budget line items. Specifically, in looking at the Department’s request to meet needs for replacement vehicles, the previous purchase of four emergency response vehicles became an issue, with the board stating “no one knows where the money came from . . . so we should cut four [vehicles] from his request.” If there was confusion about where the money came from, the Department would have quickly helped to resolve it, had they been asked for clarification during the course of the multiple work sessions. The Department would have willingly showed that the board had allocated the necessary funds in the 2015 approved budget and the vehicles were all purchased from those funds. The Office of the Sheriff was allotted ten new vehicles for the 2015/2016 budget, in order to meet the County’s policy regarding the safety and replacement of vehicles. Of the ten vehicles approved for replacement, six of these vehicles were purchased in 2015, and the remaining four vehicles, that were a source of confusion, were purchased in January 2016 as approved by the board.
Additionally, in order to provide insight for what funds are needed for these vehicles, it’s important to understand what is necessary to equip them to be ready for use by our county’s deputies in providing service to our community. This additional emergency equipment includes, among other things, lights, radios, decals, and bumper guards totaling approximately $8,500.00 in additional cost for the vehicle. While the Department has not used all the money allotted for this purpose, there are well over twenty vehicles that now need replaced as per county established policy. With the money the board has decided to cut from the Department’s budget, the Department cannot meet the requirements to put emergency response vehicles on the road that are properly equipped to standard for the safety of our citizens and our deputies. The safety of the deputies, while providing safety for our community, is paramount to me, so I will do everything possible to put them in the necessary equipment to facilitate that purpose.
The next issue of concern was the board’s discussion of the line item budget request for fuel for emergency response vehicles. While the fluctuation in fuel prices has been a roller coaster ride for almost all government entities in projecting needs, the Department has done well in coming under budget on this item. This year we had a surplus of $75,000 in our fuel cost, and beyond budgeting below cost, this margin has been influenced by several factors. In the past year, we have had several of the other departments that typically require purchasing fuel from our department, purchase fuel from other sources (i.e. the Department of the State Police now purchases a portion of their fuel from the highway department). Additionally, the cost of the fuel has also been less expensive to purchase for the Department’s vehicles for the last several months. Though many variables effecting fuel prices make projections difficult, the Department has done well and is relieved when fuel prices and consumption, in the aggregate, fluctuate in the County’s favor for the year. This allows the Department to return any unused money, allocated for fuel, back to the county for future use, as the Department has done every year.
During the discussion of the Budget for the Office of the Sheriff, a concern was raised regarding part time court security for $54,000. The explanation behind this figure is that our part time employees get $15.76 per hour. When working 29 hours a week, this total comes to $47,532.16. This number does not include coverage for days off and individuals on sick leave. Because we are required to have someone cover the shift for the court, it’s necessary that we request the money to cover these unexpected events.
There were concerns regarding line items budget to train our officers. While training is one of the most important fundamental priorities law enforcement can focus on, requesting appropriate funding in order to facilitate that training is equally important. For the focus of firearms training, we train twice a year with our service weapons in order to meet standards that help ensure the safety of the officers and the public. The ordering of this ammunition for this minimal training has to be done in advance to assure we have the necessary ammunition to meet our next training needs. Ammunition is not ordered two years in advance, but rather is ordered as we use the ammunition in preparation of the next training event. For example, in some years certain ammunition is harder to receive, such as .223 caliber ammunition, because of the large scale government usage from the federal government to local government. This large scale usage creates the requirement for a longer lead time in requests of that caliber ammunition for training, which the Department has to account for because of the use and demands of the industry.
The board additionally addressed expenditures for our dive team. While still an ongoing process, we have been evaluating the assets of our dive team. Though not completely yet executed, we have made the decision to liquidate this team and remove this expense of $1,500. We have already been coordinating with public safety, sending letters in order to facilitate transportation and meet return requirements for the equipment. This process is still ongoing, but will be resolved.
Also concerning, were the issues regarding previous credit card expenses focused on purchases made with no focus on what those purchases were for. While the Board questioned “are we buying cheesecake again?” a simple answer could have been provided to inform the board that the expenditures were made for procurement of forensic computer software and equipment that the county was deficient of. This software is used to analyze computer hard drives and cellular phones in criminal investigations, and is a completely necessary and justified expenditure. The software and equipment that the county now owns, is among the primary tools now used to aid law enforcement in solving violent crimes and recovering loved ones to their families. Importantly, the software purchased was the same type of software utilized during some of the high profile homicides that our county unfortunately experienced last year, but to its credit, help solve. We live in a world of increasingly advanced technology today, and the Office of the Sheriff is dedicated to finding innovative solutions to help protect its citizens in whatever part of life crime may touch. The Department recognizes that without these tools, we fall short in our service to the community, so we planned for their procurement.
Lastly, the board analyzed the planned expenditure to lease and operate the West Lake Office Substation. The West Lake Office has been open and manned up until to sixty days ago. Recently we had operated our narcotics unit from this office, along with our road officers in transit to conduct interviews and fulfilling their needed paper work requirements. Evaluating the substation’s most efficient use in providing service, we have relocated the narcotics unit while we are restructuring the unit, but will be increasing our personnel footprint there in preparation of a busy summer season at the lake. As the nexttwelve months go by, we will continue to evaluate the needs of the citizens from this office inconducting disparate operations throughout our large community, and determine if the need is outweighed by the cost.
I would like to make it clear to the citizens of Franklin County that the services you receive will not falter from the Office of the Sheriff. The Department is dedicated to serving you and your families by keeping the best law enforcement professionals possible in our county, and equipping them to do their job. These men and women deserve better for the commitment they give us every day. Though their pay may not be the most, and the hours they work are long, they give diligently in their service. Considering what these men and woman do for our community, I am encouraged in continuing to do my very best to defend them in working through this process with the Board, ensuring that neither our citizens or law enforcement officers are hurt unnecessarily by these cuts.