The Duncan Banner
The approved Stephens County budget provided 5 percent raises for all county employees, but members of two governing parties chose not to hire more deputies for the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office.
The Board of Stephens County Commissioners and the Stephens County Excise-Equalization Board reached an agreement Friday on how to proceed with the fiscal year 2013-14 budget.
Lonnie Estes, District 2 commissioner, voted against the proposed budget.
The county budget has been a hot button item for members of the two boards and the sheriff’s office since September, when discussion revolved around hiring three new sheriff’s deputies to increase security at the Stephens County Courthouse.
Gary Ledford, chairman of the Excise Board, said providing pay raises and helping pay for more security measures are one thing; hiring more employees is another.
“We can’t fund more people,” Ledford said. “A boiler is a one-time thing. People are on-going.”
Dee Bowen, District 3 commissioner, recommended using $75,000 set aside for security to be used to hire at least one deputy. Sheriff Wayne McKinney said the money would pay for a new deputy for one year, but trying to find funding to keep that person on staff would be difficult. McKinney and Undersheriff John Smith said the money would be better used for other security measures, including video cameras.
McKinney said the decision on the budget is up to an agreement between the two boards, but he did have concerns about the decision against adding new deputies.
“I’m going to respect whatever decision you all make,” McKinney said. “The commissioners are under an obligation to make the budget fair.”
If deputies had been hired, they would have run courthouse security, McKinney said. He said he would rather not pull deputies from patrolling the county to keeping an eye on the courthouse.
“I will not sacrifice the safety of the people in the county,” McKinney said. “You want to stop a problem before it gets to the courthouse. Three people aren’t going to cut it. We need at least six. I will be looking at other accounts to see what I can do.”
McKinney said he does have money saved in other accounts, and he would not expect the county to pay for six new deputies. He said the cost to hire all the deputies he wants would cost upwards of $250,000, and he wouldn’t wouldn’t ask the county to help with funding all of the positions.
Estes said he was concerned about courthouse security, especially with the lack of security measures in place on any routine day. He said people enter with backpacks often, but there’s no one to check the backpacks.
Todd Churchman, a member of the Excise Board, said everyone in the meeting can vouch for the importance of security in the courthouse. But he wasn’t sure where the money for such security increases would come.
“We are limited as to the amount of money we have,” Churchman said.
Churchman and Ledford said one goal of the county is to save some funds. Both were against spending all of the county’s money with fear of breaking the county bank. Ledford said spending all of the money in the county’s general fund would be a mistake because some of that money may be needed throughout the year. The remaining money in the general fund would provide a cushion for the county in case money is needed.
Churchman said an increase of security wouldn’t be guaranteed to protect courthouse employees and visitors 100 percent. He said the county could only protect within its means.
“All we can do is our very best,” he said.
Although all members of the Excise Board and two commissioners approved the updated budgets, including the 5 percent raises, Estes voted against the finalized budget.
“I can’t in good conscience do (support) it,” Estes said.