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Eugene L. Downing

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ANDREW TOBIAS

Staff Writer

About a week after prying loose a $150,000 funding increase to pay employee salaries through the rest of the year, Delaware County Sheriff Walter L. Davis III on Monday asked county commissioners for a seven-figure bump for next year.

As part of an ongoing process to set a 2012 county budget, Davis requested commissioners set his 2012 budget at $20.3 million, compared to $17.9 million this year.

Reading from prepared statements, Davis, as well as eight members of his administrative staff, told commissioners during an hour-long public hearing that the sheriff’s office needs more people.

“Our current staffing isn’t enough to properly protect and serve our community,” Davis said.

The $2.4 million Davis requested would pay to hire eight new positions: five deputies in support positions, two new corrections officers for the county jail and a new detective. Sheriff’s staff are also requesting six sheriff’s vehicles, computer equipment and ammunition and firearms, among other supplies.

Putting on full-court press in front of media members who attended the hearing, Davis also recruited four Delaware County residents to relay their positive experiences with the sheriff’s office, and media liaison Jennifer Jerrell read a letter from a fifth.

“The sheriff’s office budget team has presented overwhelming reasoning to support the modest increase we are asking for,” said chief deputy John Petrozzi.

Commissioners were noncommittal, saying they needed time to digest the sheriff’s presentation.

“We are going to take all of those things into consideration, while also considering there are not unlimited dollars in Delaware County,” commissioner Tommy Thompson said. “…I wish they were unlimited, but they are not. We’re going to have to set priorities.”

In the past few years, commissioners have granted Davis funding increases, but not at the level the sheriff asked.

The sheriff’s office is Delaware County’s largest expenditure, and has seen its funding increase slightly over the past few years. In 2010, it was $16.6 million and in 2009, it was $15.6 million.

Commissioners are currently drawing up a 2012 budget, and Monday’s hearing was just one of roughly two dozen that have already been held. In all, county offices have asked commissioners for a $3.6 million funding increase in 2012, said assistant county administrator Letha George.

Most of that is Davis’ request, but some other officeholders have asked for salary increases for their staffs, George said. Commissioners have not funded raises for non-union employee for the past three years.

Even the staffing increase Davis and his staff requested Monday is considerably less than what is needed, according to an in-house report the sheriff gave commissioners.

To keep up with population growth in Delaware County, the sheriff’s office needs to hire an additional 28 detectives under national police staffing requirements, said Lt. David Buttler, who prepared the staffing report. In 2010, six detectives handled 469 felony cases.

Violent crime in Delaware County dropped 58 percent in 2010 over 2009, sheriff’s officials said. But drug seizures are way up — the sheriff’s office has seized more than 5,100 grams (about 11 pounds) of heroin in 2011, more than triple the year before.

As recently as 2008, the sheriff’s office seized less than 10 grams of heroin. And prescription drug seizures are also way up, more than 10,500 individual doses to date, said Sgt. Randy Pohl.

The increased drug crime has also resulted in an increase in reports of property crimes, sheriff’s staff said.

One week ago, commissioners voted 2-1, with commission president Dennis Stapleton voting against, to approve Davis’ request for a $150,000 increase for his 2011 budget.

That spending increase will cover contractually-guaranteed step increases for sheriff’s employees, Davis said. That’s not including another $200,000 or so in raises commissioners expect an arbitrator will award sheriff’s employees once collective bargaining concludes later this year.

Stapleton told the Gazette he voted against the increase to send a message that times are tight.

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