MIAMI — The county budget and public safety were the topics of discussion when the Ottawa County Excise Board met in special session Monday, July 22. The budget and estimate of needs were under review for the new fiscal year 2019-2020, which began July 1.

When the board began to go over the numbers that CPA Bill Turner had prepared, it was noted that no raises had been factored in for any county employee, which was met with a stunned silence then disgruntled grumbling by county employees in attendance.

Board member Leon Weece asked those present what their attitudes were about not getting raises, to which County Assessor Becky Smith replied, “We are staying within our budgets and are not asking for more money from the county for our budgets, so that, in my opinion, is deserving of a raise. If we don’t get a raise because another department is overspending, then that is going to cause some unhappiness.”

The department Smith referred to is the Sheriff’s Office, which it has been noted overspent its budget for the past two fiscal years.

Records show that it overspent its 2017-2018 fiscal year budget by over $380,000, and it is not yet known how much over the budget it went for the 2018-2019 fiscal year that ended June 30.

However, it was reported as being approximately $58,000 over budget at a commissioners’ meeting June 17. The final numbers are still being worked out.

Turner noted that whatever the overage amount is for the last year would have to be paid out of the new budget currently under discussion, for which no allowance had been made.

Chairman Larry Gatewood said that it’s obvious the sheriff needs help with budgeting matters and requested that bookkeeping software like Quicken or QuickBooks be installed and that the records be made available so that others can assist in the future.

Turner then noted that the sheriff’s office employs 24 people currently, which means it is operating with a “skeleton crew,” but said there were no funds for the employment of any additional staff.

District Attorney Kenny Wright immediately responded that he feels it is dangerous for the county to operate the sheriff’s office with a skeleton crew.

“Crime here is increasing greatly,” Wright said. “Robbery, theft, shootings, stabbings… We need more deputies on duty for the public’s safety, which should be number one. Meth use and trafficking have gone sky high since a new law passed making its possession a misdemeanor. And brings with it more crime.”

Commissioner Mike Furnas asked if there is a direct correlation between the number of deputies on the streets and the crime rate.

Wright said, “Absolutely…yes.”

Floyd then noted that the sheriff’s office is also responsible for the transport of inmates so he has deputies that are not on the streets protecting the public when they are doing a transport — meaning even fewer deputies are available, which adds even more risk to public safety.

When asked if one deputy added to his team would be beneficial, Floyd responded, “Any addition is better than zero.”

Weece then thanked the employees present for their service and Gatewood added, “It’s a team effort and we are all a part of the team.”

And, in a sudden and surprising turnabout, the board then voted to give all county employees a 2% raise and for the sheriff to employ one additional deputy, which they estimated would add approximately $40,000 to the sheriff’s budget costs.

It was noted that the board is going to put a 1/12th restriction on all unencumbered funds for the sheriff’s office as a budgeting “help aid.”