Sheriff Wellington seeks $7M budget hike for jails, raises, vehicles

By Peter H. Milliken


Mahoning County Sheriff Randall A. Wellington came to the county commissioners with a long wish list, including recalling all 37 laid-off deputies.

The sheriff at his budget hearing said he wants to fully open the main jail and reopen the minimum- security jail for overnight use.

His requests also included purchasing five new vehicles and a $400,000 trailer to use as an indoor firing range outside the minimum-security jail.

Wellington seeks to increase his budget from $16.3 million in authorized spending from the county’s general fund this year to $23.3 million next year, but he said candidly he does not realistically expect to get all the funding he’s seeking for 2012.

“We want to bring back all of our laid-off personnel,” the sheriff told commissioners Thursday, adding he has included in his request enough money for 3-percent pay raises as wage talks with deputies begin next week.

Eighty-eight percent of the sheriff’s budget is consumed by wage-and-benefit costs.

The sheriff said he is struggling to staff the jail adequately to keep conditions constitutional so the county will not face another costly jail-inmate lawsuit as it did in 2003 concerning jail crowding.

His hearing was one of a series of departmental budget sessions the commissioners have been conducting in preparation for their enactment by Dec. 15 of the county’s 2012 budget.

Commissioners must prioritize spending because departmental budget requests total more than $67 million, but the county budget commission has certified only $47.9 million in general-fund revenue for next year.

Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti said she’d like to explore ways to reduce jail-utility costs, which are projected for 2012 at $500,000 for electricity and $181,000 for natural gas.

Combined electric and gas costs for the county jail and the Martin P. Joyce Juvenile Justice Center, which detain inmates around the clock, total more than $1 million a year, she noted.

Besides 3 percent raises that may emerge from new negotiations, the sheriff’s budget request includes $5,000 annual pay raises already negotiated for each full-time cadet (entry-level deputy), which raises cadet salaries to $29,500 a year.

The sheriff told the commissioners he believes the deputies have reached their limit in taking concessions. “They gave a lot,” he said, referring to pay cuts and elimination of ranking-officer overtime in recent years.

Sheriff’s deputies are among law-enforcement officers from about 40 departments who now use a crowded outdoor Austintown police firing range for target practice, and the trailer will give them nearby use of an indoor facility all year, the sheriff said.

Sgt. Thomas DeGenova, the sheriff’s fiscal officer, said his department is seeking a grant for the firing-range trailer.

Wellington said he’s asking for five new vehicles because his department has gotten none in the last decade.

To reopen the two closed prisoner-housing units at the main jail but keep the minimum-security jail closed to overnight use, only 18 deputies would need to be recalled from layoff, the sheriff said.

The minimum-security jail is now used only for the day-reporting inmate work program.

As for potential income-producing operations, the sheriff said his department is negotiating with several entities to possibly use the minimum-security jail for a three-day driver education alternative program for drunken-driving offenders.

Such a program, which would require overnight stays, would be paid for by the offenders as an alternative to their going to regular jail cells.

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