In what’s become an annual tradition of sorts, Delaware County Sheriff L. Davis III appeared Monday before commissioners to ask for a six-figure amount he said his office needs to make it through the rest of the year.
Davis said he needs about $150,000. Commissioners did not budget his office enough money at the beginning of the year to cover step increases and longevity pay guaranteed to union sheriff’s employees through collective bargaining, Davis said.
And that’s not including an additional estimated $200,000 in base pay raises that commissioners expect a third-party negotiator will order the county to dole out once ongoing negotiations with unions representing sheriff’s employees conclude later this year.
Delaware County Administrator Tim Hansley said he expects a deal with unions representing sheriff’s deputies, corrections officers, 911 dispatchers and supervisors in the sheriff’s office to be finalized in the coming weeks.
Sheriff’s employees are currently working without a 2011 contract, but Hansley expects binding arbitration will award deputies 3 percent base pay raises for this year, with another 2.75 percent raise possible for 2012 and to reopen salary negotiations for 2013.
When setting up 2011 spending levels, commissioners, while flat-funding nearly all other county offices, budgeted $17.7 million for the sheriff’s office, a $300,000 increase over the previous year.
But that still left a shortfall that Davis told commissioners was around $900,000 at the beginning of the year. Davis said he whittled that number down to $150,000 through conservative budgeting, which included putting off filling vacant positions, minimizing overtime, receiving a $72,000 federal grant and cutting back on training and supplies.
Davis said the cuts have worked in the short-term, but that eventually, the other shoe will drop.
“We really are stealing from Peter to pay Paul. At some point, you spread yourself so thin that it all breaks down. I just don’t want it to be on my watch when it comes crashing through the roof,” Davis said.
Public safety and quality public schools are the two main factors that make a community like Delaware County attractive, Davis said.
“If this was a gun-riddled environment, no one would move here,” Davis said.
Commissioners will consider Davis’ request, but “we need to make sure we aren’t overpaying,” said commission president Dennis Stapleton.
Commissioner Tommy Thompson said he doesn’t want Davis to feel like commissioners aren’t listening.
“Your pleas have been heard, but we have other departments that need funding…there’s only one pot of money to take everything out of,” Thompson said.
Budgeting the sheriff’s office at the beginning of the year short, only to leave the sheriff coming back later to ask for more money, has become part of the ebb and flow in the commissioners office recently. While as he said Monday, that has not made Davis happy, commissioners in doing so have successfully forced the sheriff to reduce the number he initially said he needed to fund his office.
In June 2009, commissioners gave Davis $702,000 to cover the raises after the previous board of commissioners flat-funded his office as part of a county-wide salary freeze, despite the union-guaranteed raises for sheriff’s employees.
After commissioners in late 2009 again voted to flat-fund the sheriff’s office for the 2010 budget, Davis said the move left him $750,000 short.
But in August 2010, commissioners closed the gap with another $179,000 appropriation; Davis used $406,000 that had been set aside for other purposes to cover the raises, with the rest covered by spending cuts.
At the end of last year, Davis asked for a $2.1 million increase for his 2011 budget, but commissioners approved only a $300,000 increase.
Since taking office in 2007, Davis has consistently lobbied commissioners for more funding for the sheriff’s office, which employs about 200 people and is the county’s largest office.
Under FBI standards, Delaware County should have 180 deputies on staff, or about twice as many as it currently has, Davis said Monday.
“By all measures, we are understaffed,” he said.
In 2009, Davis was successful in convincing commissioners to borrow $1.6 million to renovate the jail and add 100 new beds for inmates. Part of that was financed by “renting” space to house federal prisoners and accused illegal immigrants awaiting court dates in Columbus through a deal Davis negotiated with two federal government law enforcement agencies.
Earlier this year, Davis asked commissioners to pay for half of an additional $6.1 million in jail renovations that would add a 36,000-square-foot expansion to the county jail for administrative offices and evidence storage. The sheriff’s office would cover the other half through the rental deal with the federal government, Davis said.
The expansion would allow the sheriff’s office to bring all their offices under one roof; currently, the DCSO administration is split between 149 N. Sandusky St. in Delaware and the Delaware County Jail, about a mile away at 844 U.S. 42.
That expansion would be the first of six long-term proposed phases totaling $34.2 million in all under long-term projections prepared by an architectural firm that performed the 2009 jail renovations.