By: James Pruitt
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
Williams County Sheriff Steven Towns wants three new deputies to beef up his road patrol, but the county commissioners say there isn’t enough money to do it.
The sheriff and his top deputy, Lt. Greg Ruskey appeared before the commissioners April 14 to plead their case after offering documentation of the number of deputies on staff and a look at the number of incidents since 2008. The commissioners saw nothing new in the presentation and did not assent to the request.
Towns said his staff is currently overworked with only eight road deputies on the roster, half of what the department had before layoffs in 2009. As a result, his deputies are responding to 100 more calls each per year.
Commissioner Alan Word, a former sheriff himself, disputed Towns’ numbers and suggested the real increase is about 12 calls per deputy per year. He believes the problem resides with Towns’ management of resources.
From Towns’ perspective this would require an extra $143,000 for the salaries and benefits for three deputies. The sheriff said since the county budget is back to where it was before the Great Recession, there shouldn’t be a problem.
The commissioners released a breakout of costs for three deputies which includes salary, vehicle, insurance, workmen’s comp and other benefits to be $301,173 for the first year and $190,000 for the years following without factoring in any raises.
“We are not back to normal,” Commissioner Lewis Hilkert said.
According to Hilkert, the county is still $850,000 short 2008 revenues.
But Ruskey said all that doesn’t change the fact the department is still shorthanded needs help.
“We are doing double the work,” Ruskey said. “Asking for three deputies is pretty reasonable request.”
Commissioner Alan Word doesn’t see things the same way. Total calls are up by 52 in 2015 compared to 2008, but miscellaneous calls accounted for 64 percent of the 2015 total.
Miscellaneous calls are any that don’t fall under one of the main categories and range from wellness checks and barking dogs to juveniles, Towns said. The calls don’t include civil calls, he said.
“We used to get calls about bats in the house,” Towns said.
The calls in the report are complaints, the sheriff said. The totals do not include citations.
Total calls and calls for serious crimes and crashes dropped below 2008 levels from 2009-2015. The county lost eight road patrol officers due to layoffs. As a result, the average number of calls per year handled by a deputy rose from 305 in 2008 to 561.25 in 2015. That amounts to 0.7 calls per day more.
While the sheriff painted a bleak picture as far as staffing was concerned and stated the county’s finances had returned to normal, Commissioner Lewis Hilkert called into question Towns’ response to what type of information the commissioners wanted and his understanding of the county’s financial picture.
“You are stating we are back to normal,” Hilkert said. “We are not back to normal.”
Revenues in 2008 was $14,173,000, Hilkert said. In 2009, that amount dropped to $11,174,000. In 2015, total revenues were $13,228,000 he said.
“We are still down $850,000 less revenue in 2015 than in 2008,” Hilkert said.
Towns said he was going by the numbers he got off the county’s website.
“You say we are not back to normal, we are not back to normal in the sense of the community safety situation,” Towns said.
Hilkert broke down the revenue streams for the county. Sales tax revenues are up, but local government funds and investment income are down sharply.
“Do we have casino funds that we didn’t have before,” Hilkert said. “Yes we did. We are not guaranteed those casino funds are going to be here today, tomorrow or five years from now.
“The casino funds are being set aside for capital improvements.”
Towns suggested if that’s the case, the county could designate a new use for money already set aside for capital improvement, but Hilkert said before the casino money existed, there was no money for capital improvement.
“It came out of the general fund,” Commissioner Brian Davis said.
Ruskey went back to the sheriff’s main point that if you break down the numbers, the deputies are doing double the work compared to 2008.
“We are not asking for the eight to be returned, we are asking for three, which is less than half,” Ruskey said. “I think that’s a pretty reasonable request.
The manpower shortage is causing response times to run from 30-60 minutes, Ruskey said.
“We are operating bare bones,” Ruskey said.
For Word, the workload has been static over the past few years, and he questioned the sheriff’s allocation of other deputies if the road patrol is such a need. That turned into a discussion on the need for a DARE officer.
Towns said the position, funded through other sources, actually nets the county $12,000 to $15,000 per year. The clerks, of which Williams has only three, are more efficient that most counties with four or five, the sheriff said.
“What we are talking about is a matter of life and death,” Towns said. “People are dying.”
Word countered the sheriff’s numbers don’t back up that claim.
Davis reminded Towns that his DARE officer doesn’t make any money for the department as the grants bring in $23,000, but the position costs $48,000. And he said the sheriff reduced his administrative line item from $141,000 to $119,000 for the 2016 budget.
“Which is a fair thing, because you had four people and now you are down to three,” Davis said.
The commissioners did not budge from their decision not to assent to Towns’ request and Towns later posted a letter on Facebook asking residents to send to commissioners imploring them to change their minds.
James Pruitt may be reached at