Impending loss of revenue from a county sales tax is the root of the problem.
LISBON -- Almost half the Columbiana County sheriff's road deputies will be laid off at the end of the month because of the county's financial crunch, Sheriff Dave Smith said Tuesday.
Five or six deputies, most of them from the 13-man road patrol division, and five part-time radio dispatchers will be let go, Smith said. The cuts represent about 25 percent of the entire department.
"I have concerns about safety issues, for my men and for citizens," Smith said. "Some calls will have to be put on hold if there is no life-threatening situation."
The county commissioners imposed a 20-percent cut in the salary accounts of all county agencies in late December as well as targeted cuts in other accounts.
Sales taxes expire
Both a 1 percent sales tax and a 0.5 percent sales tax expire this year, and officials are uncertain whether voters will renew either.
Meanwhile, commissioners were also spooked by a disturbing sag in sales tax collections for November and December last year. They're running about 11 percent behind last year's pace.
While all county agencies face cuts, Smith said his department is the largest and has the most impact on the public.
The cuts today are a double hit, as they also prevent the department from using reserve deputies to fill the gap. Because of a "verbal agreement" with the deputies union, the unpaid reserves can be used only when the department is fully staffed.
Smith said he had no intention to ask the union to waive that agreement. "The full-time officers don't want that done," he said. "People will say, if you can do it now, why not do it all the time."
Deputy Wes Smith, the steward of the Fraternal Order of Police local, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Besides Smith and his chief deputy, full-time members of the department include two lieutenants, seven sergeants, 13 road deputies, five radio dispatchers and four clerical workers.
No cuts will be made among clerical staff because of the number of sheriff's sales being held, Smith said. The county jail will not be affected because it is run by a private firm whose contract was fully funded.
Smith said more layoffs may occur if the reduced number of deputies raises overtime spending.
The department will try to keep two cruisers on the roads of the sprawling county during daylight hours, but Smith said he is considering having two deputies ride in a single car at night to save money on the operation of a cruiser and for safety reasons.
Using a bank robbery Monday in Hanoverton as an example, Smith said eight officers worked that scene. Next month it would be "two or three."
"I'll be out in a cruiser and my deputy will be out in a cruiser," Smith said, even though when he did that during another financial crisis it led to a union grievance.
"Let them, but I am not going to let anyone get hurt -- a member of the public or one of my men," he said.
On the other hand, Smith said that he was proud of his "seasoned deputies. They've told me, 'If there's trouble you call me out, you won't have to pay me a cent.'"
The department spent $2.3 million in 2004 and wanted to spend $2.7 million in 2005, but instead will take a cut from 2004.
Smith said other areas took big hits. There is no money to replace aging cruisers and other initiatives will lapse, including having two dispatchers on duty at all times. And there is no money to budget for unemployment claims, so payments to laid-off officers will have to come from other funds.
With a vote in May on renewing 1 percent of the sales tax, Smith said a full 1.5 percent tax is vital to his department.
"The sheriff's office lives and dies on the sales tax. If the voters reject the 1 percent tax, the last one out on the door shuts the lights off."