While Mahoning County's budget crunch is hitting the sheriff's department especially hard -- the department is one of the big ticket items in county government spending -- some operational changes being implemented by Sheriff Randall Wellington aren't necessarily a bad thing.
These changes will force a reassessment of the role of the deputies. For instance, why should the Western Reserve School District have a deputy sheriff assigned to it as a security officer while other districts have to pay for their own security?
Or, why should those communities that choose not to have their own police departments look to the sheriff's department to provide law enforcement services?
Just because that has been the way things have been done in Mahoning County over the years doesn't mean change is impossible.
Indeed, as governments at all levels come to terms with the reality that their treasuries are getting bare and that taxpayers want them to tighten their belts, the onus is on elected officials to find ways of getting the biggest bang for the buck.
In the case of the Mahoning County Sheriff's Department, providing school security and assigning regular patrols to communities that don't have police departments are not among its statutory responsibilities.
State statute requires the sheriff to operate the county jail and to serve papers for the courts.
The focus on those responsibilities is especially important when a sheriff's department is being forced to lay off employees. Wellington plans to furlough 60 deputies by the end of the month because his budget was cut by the commissioners.
While we sympathize with officials and pupils from Western Reserve School District over the loss of the deputy, the fact remains that the system was receiving an extraordinary service.
As for a reduction in the patrols, we have noted before that communities that don't pay for their own police departments are getting something of a free ride on the backs of other taxpayers.
As for the courts, the assignment of deputies to provide security in the county courthouse is said to have begun during the tenure of Sheriff Edward Nemeth. According to common pleas Judge R. Scott Krichbaum, the judges had nothing to do with the number of deputies assigned to the courthouse. Krichbaum said Nemeth had a study conducted that showed what the staffing levels should be.
We are encouraged by Krichbaum's contention that he and his colleagues are amenable to discussing this issue with the sheriff to determine whether some other system could be adopted.