Wood County officials discuss budget

PARKERSBURG – Concerns over delays and cuts in reimbursement for overtime expenses paid to deputies who sign up to work security at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport were part of 2013-2014 budget discussions Monday.

Wood County Sheriff Ken Merritt; Chief Law Enforcement Deputy Shawn Graham; T.R. Smith, administrative assistant; and Chief Tax Deputy Bob Tranquill discussed their budget proposals for the new year. The commission must have a finalized budget to Charleston for review by March 28. The county’s budget year runs from July 1 to June 30.

Officials are uncertain how pending federal budget cuts might affect Transportation Security Administration funding for airport security in the future.

“The federal reimbursement payments for the airport security provided by the sheriff’s department are always late in coming,” Smith said.

“They have also cut the hourly rate from $22.96 to $20,” Graham said.

Commissioner Steve Gainer asked why an on-duty deputy could not be called out to perform airport security when needed instead of having deputies signup for the duty during their off hours.

“If we start doing that, we would have to take a deputy off their road patrol and other duties,” Graham said.

“They are already out on calls or have people waiting for them to be somewhere; we are very busy,” Merritt said.

“I think we need to have Shawn, Terry Moore (airport manager) and Wayne (Dunn, who serves on airport board) sit down and come up with a system that works, but we need to be made aware when there are problems before it becomes a crisis,” said Commissioner Blair Couch. “Maybe we could work something out with Williamstown or the airport has authority to have its own police force, although that could be expensive to maintain.”

Sheriff’s department officials said they are also faced with rising fuel costs.

“We either move into the future or stay the same and lose the opportunity. We have to move toward hybrids or look for alternative fuel sources. It would benefit everyone all the way around,” commission President Wayne Dunn said.

Graham said an additional $500 is being requested in training because the state is requiring additional training. He said costs for blood testing is also going up. Those convicted of a felony must give blood to have their DNA on file.

Graham said costs for a second canine were paid out of the existing budget. He said the second dog is needed as drug enforcement efforts are stepped up. The department has requested an additional $3,000 for K9 expenses. Graham said one of the dogs is used to sniff out drugs, but the second canine may be used in searches or other situations that could be safety concerns, so that dog will be provided with a bullet-proof vest. “The other dog is more passive, and isn’t really placed in harm’s way, but if the handler feels he needs one, we will find a way to get him a vest as well,” Graham said, noting grants for vests don’t cover vests for police dogs.

Sheriff’s department officials also asked about the future of the courthouse security guard. Currently the sheriff’s department is paying for that bailiff. “If we are going to have the additional security guard, I think they would be needed more in the tax office,” Merritt said.

“But there are already security guards in the Judge Black building at the family court,” Couch said. “I thing we need to discuss it further.”

The sheriff’s department’s budget also includes mandatory increases in retirement. The total law enforcement budget last year was $3,455,673, this year’s request is $3,629,094.

The sheriff asked his employees be considered for a $1,000 pay increase for the new year. “This is to assist our employees with rising costs, which include the additional payroll taxes they now pay,” Merritt’s request says.

Tranquill asked for $6,000 in extra help in the tax office line item; $1,500 was allocated in that line item last year. Tranquill said he needed the funds to hire summer help to assist with taxes. “Two or three years ago the line item was funded at $6,000 then that money was moved somewhere else. We need to make sure we are getting the mail in and out as quickly as possible to get that tax revenue,” Tranquill said.

Sheriff’s department officials said although they are not requesting additional funds for more correctional officers at the holding center recent incidents have raised safety concerns that two officers are not adequate when there are 8-10 prisoners being held in the facility.

“We were told by the previous sheriff when the justice center was built, the department would need less people,” Gainer said.

“You were told wrong. We are not requesting funds right now, but we do need to discuss the situation with you,” Graham said.

“We had a recent incident in which there were only two guards in there and we had multiple individuals, one of whom was on meth and was very violent. Officer safety is a real concern,” Merritt said.