The sheriff warned of a 'tremendous' increase in crime if inmates are released.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Mahoning County Sheriff's Department's $16.9 million budget request for 2005 includes $1.2 million to fill vacancies and give pay increases.
Sheriff Randall A. Wellington provided his proposed budget to Mahoning County commissioners at a hearing Thursday. The request is $2.8 million more than what the department spent in 2004, according to Alki Santamas, jail administrator.
Commissioner Anthony Traficanti began the budget hearing by saying the loss of a half-cent sales tax -- defeated in March and again in November 2004 -- means the county must operate with roughly $35 million this year. He said budget requests total $57 million.
Commissioners are holding individual hearings with department heads to figure out where cuts can be made. They said the county, with a 30 percent loss of revenue, must revert to what it spent in 1999 -- $35 million.
The sheriff's department spent $12.4 million in 1999. Of that, $7.6 million went for staff, records show. The sheriff earned $68,152 in 1999; this year, his salary is $87,550.
Wellington wants $9.3 million for staff for 2005.
The sheriff said his proposed budget includes a 4 percent pay raise for deputies, who haven't had a raise since 2001. He said deputies here are paid 18 percent less than those in nearby sheriff's departments, such as Trumbull and Portage counties.
The sheriff said the union, aside from a three-year pay freeze, made concessions, including making 10 percent co-payments toward health coverage and giving up uniform allowance.
"I have to compliment the union," Wellington told commissioners. "They bent over backward."
Commissioner David Ludt said he wanted the deputies' situation "on the record."
"It's always lay off the deputies instead of other people in the county," Pat Daugherty, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 141/Ohio Labor Council senior staff representative, told commissioners. "You need to look at is it worth laying off all those deputies."
Daugherty said that just because the sheriff's department is the largest county department doesn't mean it has to "suck up" the largest amount of layoffs. He said deputies have supported commissioners' needs, only to get blasted afterward.
The sheriff, meanwhile, said the $16.9 million budget would allow him to bring back 22 deputies who were laid off two months ago and replace deputies lost through attrition. The deputies' return would restore patrols to Ellsworth, Berlin and Goshen townships. Canfield Township recently entered into a $200,000 one-year contract with the sheriff's department for deputy patrols.
Wellington said the average daily jail population in 1999 was 360, compared with a daily average of 704 inmates for 2004.
In 1999, the sheriff's department had 261 deputies, compared with 231 now. "... We're doing more with less," he told commissioners.
He said 80 percent of the jail inmates -- there were 649 as of Thursday -- are awaiting court action, not serving a sentence.
Commissioner John A. McNally IV asked the sheriff what would happen if his budget gets slashed by 30 percent to 50 percent.
Wellington said layoffs would occur and he would have to contact other jails to see if they had space for Mahoning County inmates who could not be released to the streets. He pointed out that the transfer and cost of housing the inmates would be at Mahoning County's expense.
He predicted a "tremendous" increase in crime -- especially in Youngstown -- if inmates are released to the streets.
Also, reducing staff and releasing inmates would jeopardize the contract his department has with the U.S. Marshals Service to house federal detainees, he said. The marshals contract generated $2.2 million in 2004, he said.
"If commissioners are forced to cut your budget, what happens to the federal inmates?" McNally asked.
Wellington said his primary obligation is to house inmates held on state charges.
In answering McNally, the sheriff also touched on an inmates' class-action lawsuit pending in Akron federal court. He said the judge could order that inmates be released or transferred to other jails.
Wellington said the last time that happened, in 1999, a federal judge put a cap on inmates, saying the jail could house no more than 242.
McNally asked how many deputies are on leave. Wellington answered 23, and of those, 17 are on paid leave for a variety of reasons.
In response to a question from the audience, the sheriff said if there are layoffs, the four deputies on paid leave who are under indictment would be placed on layoff.
The sheriff's proposed budget for 2005 shows projected gasoline costs at $101,000, compared with $24,000 for last year. Other increases include payments to the Public Employees Retirement System jumping to nearly $1.9 million from roughly $1.6 million. Also, hospitalization is budgeted at $2.2 million for 2005, compared with $390,000 for 2004. Court settlements/judgments for 2005 is listed as $50,000, vs. $1,296 for last year.
Wellington said he is meeting with common pleas judges Feb. 14 to discuss his proposal to cut the number of deputies assigned to the courthouse from 21 to 14.
Robert Knight, jail medical administrator, made a budget request of $1.9 million for 2005. Last year, the cost was $1.8 million.
Knight explained that cost is dependent on inmate population. He said the budget amount for this year assumes a full jail.