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August 3, 2011

Clark County Sheriff’s Department questions how to maintain public safety

Budget cuts looming for all offices

JEFFERSONVILLE — A security checkpoint at the Clark County Government Building was temporarily shut down Tuesday, as a first step by Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden to address a request by the Clark County Council for him to cut $1 million out of his budget.

Rodden’s attempt at savings was short-lived, though, as by midday he was made aware of a 2008 ordinance that requires metal detectors be in place, with sheriff’s deputies manning the posts.

“At this point the security desk has to stay as it is,” he said. “It’s an example of what this office is required to do.”

Rodden said his office is required by state statute to carry out a number of services in the county — in addition to public safety services — that he doesn’t know how he will continue to provide if his budget is slashed by $1 million.

“The county council, through [Councilman Brian] Lenfert expects me to cut $1 million out of my budget for the rest of the year,” he said. “I don’t have the people. I don’t know how to maintain public safety. I think it’s very unreasonable.”

Rodden said the sheriff’s department is already short-staffed and cannot meet the cut being requested.

“They want me to layoff police officers,” he said. “We’re already short. It [the $1 million] is the salary for the rest of the year,” he said referring to the salary for “the whole sheriff’s office.”

But Lenfert said the cuts to the sheriff’s budget will close the funding gap the county is facing from $1.5 million to about $500,000.

He said Rodden has known for some time of the cuts the council is asking him to make.

“We did not tell the sheriff anything today that wasn’t told to him in March,” Lenfert said. “It’s not that we’re telling him today.”

Again, Rodden said he is trying to meet the requirements of his office and cannot afford to do it on the money he has been given.

“There’s no way we’re overstaffed,” he said. “They want to lay it all off on the sheriff’s office,” he said of the council’s cuts. “We’re the biggest piece of the pie. It’s just not reasonable.”

But the sheriff’s department is not going to be the only office that will be asked to make additional cuts.

It is expected that the council will ask all county department heads to cut 10 percent out of their remaining payroll expenses this year.

How the cuts to the payroll are made will be left up to each office holder, but are expected to be carried out through either furloughs or layoffs to cover the remaining $500,0000 shortfall.

“The council is prepared to take the majority of that and back [it] out of other department’s budgets,” Lenfert said. “I understand the public may see cuts in services, but we can only spend what we bring in. We’ve asked nearly all departments to cut 10 percent out of their budget this year.”

He said once the appropriations are made, the council’s duties are all but done and it is very limited in its ability to address departments’ concerns.

But Auditor R. Monty Snelling said cutting county employees may not solve the budget shortfall.

“Layoffs really don’t help the county,” Snelling said. “The reason why it doesn’t help the county is the county is self-insured on unemployment. When you lay someone off the county still has to pay their unemployment.”

While Snelling said he has already made enough cuts to his budget that he would not have to furlough or lay off any additional employees, he would if the decision is reached to save the county money.

“When it comes to furlough days it wouldn’t be fair for one office to not furlough,” he said.

Another suggestion Snelling said has come up is shutting down the government building on Fridays for the remainder of the year.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” he said.

Clark County Clerk-Treasurer Barbara Bratcher-Haas said she will have to wait until she gets a secure figure to make a decision.

“Whether that means giving people days off or whether that means cutting staff ... I won’t decide that until I look at the numbers,” she said.

Bratcher-Haas added that other issues may limit what her office can do as a trial rule requires that the clerk’s office remain open when the Clark County Circuit Court is open.

“I can’t close this office two days a week if the circuit court is going to be open five,” she said.

How the offices implement and deal with the cuts is under their control.

“It is their job to then run that office with that money,” Lenfert said. “The longer people wait ... the deeper the cuts have to be.”

Rodden, however, is planning to pursue another course of action to secure additional funding.

“I don’t have any other choice,” he said. “I’m probably going to have to initiate legal action.”

Rodden said he plans to file a mandate, through the county’s courts, to recover some money to pay his expenses. Once again citing the options of laying off or furloughing employees is not feasible.

“It doesn’t make up enough [money and] I have to man the facility, so how do I furlough?” he asked rhetorically.

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