Wednesday, July 13th, 2011
By Shelley Grieshop
Sheriff to beef up patrols with 3 hires
  Improved county finances will allow for three more sheriff's deputies.
Mercer County Commissioners on Tuesday approved hiring the road deputies - an action they OK'd late last year but delayed due to uncertainties about the 2011 state budget and its impact on county finances.
The sheriff's department operates with seven fewer deputies than it did in 2009. Response times for emergency calls have increased in recent years from an average of 11 minutes to 19 minutes, according to Sheriff Jeff Grey.
During appropriation discussions last fall, commissioners designated $111,000 to the sheriff's 2011 budget to hire three additional deputies - one each in February, May and later in the year. However, Grey agreed to delay filling the positions fearing the county would experience a fiscal shortfall.
Since half of the year is over, it will cost the sheriff's office less than $50,000 this year for the three positions. Grey said he likely will return the department's unused appropriations to the county.
Grey estimates the 2012 cost for the three new employees will be $114,000. The figure was based on the likelihood that two of the new positions will be filled with current corrections' employees; those jobs would then be replaced.
The county pays medical insurance premiums and workers' compensation for employees.
Grey explained the need for additional deputies.
"Part of it comes down to deputies' safety. Part of it comes down to public safety," he said.
The sheriff's office handled 1,061 criminal investigations during the first six months of 2009, 70 cases per deputy. Although the number of investigations dropped to 1,001 from January to July this year, deputies each handled 125 cases due to the reduction in manpower, Grey said.
In 2009, three cars were able to patrol the county 24 hours per day, seven days per week. This year, 76 percent of the time there is just one deputy on the road, he said.
"Recently we've had a lot of bath salt (drug) cases, and I don't think I have to tell you about the heroin problem we have," he said. "We need more help."
Commissioners didn't argue.
"You don't have to sell us on this," Commissioner Bob Nuding said.
Commissioner Jerry Laffin said it's still not clear how the state budget will affect county coffers but he's optimistic as local revenues continue to rise. Receipts so far this year are $100,000 over expenses, he said.
"It sounds good if we can maintain it," he said. "We have to commend the people (county department heads) for staying on target. We should have a carryover going into next year, but we don't know how that will compare to the (state's) cuts."
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