The Duncan Banner

March 5, 2013

Sheriff's funding request to go before excise board

Megan Bristow
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN —  

The Board of Stephens County Commissioners recommended that the Stephens County Excise Board approve a supplement to the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office budget in the amount of $261,365.48 to allow the department operate until July. 
The recommendation is expected to be approved at 9 a.m. today.
Sheriff Wayne McKinney and Undersheriff John Smith approached the Stephens County Board of Commissioners Monday to discuss the supplement in response to the $204,000 budget cut in their 2012-13 budget.
“We were the sacrificial lamb in this situation,” Sheriff Wayne McKinney said in reference to the budget cuts incurred in August 2012.
During the 2011-12 fiscal year, the department operated at $550,000. The cut left the department at a budget of $350,000. The sheriff’s office was the only county office told to operate under a tighter budget.
The sheriff’s office was expected to operate out of cash funds that are currently held by the sheriff. However, McKinney said the cash funds are meant to enhance the sheriff’s budget — not to be figured in as part of it.
“We do not frivolously spend money,” McKinney said. “We have been very good stewards of the money. We have been able to grow that just like you would a business. That is what I am here for. That is what I am elected to do. I am also elected to protect the people of the county. Right now, that is becoming harder and harder to do. We have pretty serious comp time issues that is going to cause legal ramification on us and the county eventually. These are areas that are going to have to be addressed.”
One reason these issues have been magnified is the five percent raise that was given to all county employees with this budget, he noted. Additionally, the sheriff’s office needs to hire more deputies to be operating at minimum staff levels.
“When you are operating on a relatively small staff, we have to look at officer safety,” Smith said. “We need to look at response time for calls and being able to provide an adequate response. If one deputy takes off, we typically only have one deputy working the field. If we bring in another deputy, which we feel compelled to while that deputy is at school or whatever, we are just enhancing and manifesting our comp time issues.”
McKinney said that the increasing amount of violent and domestic crimes in Stephens County are requiring extra deputies to respond and more time to investigate.
“Our call volume has increased steadily over the past four years,” McKinney said. “We are talking about violent crimes. We do not see the little mom and pop stuff we saw many, many years ago. We see violent acts committed in this county, whether it be home invasions, whether it be robberies, assaults or attacks on small children. You cannot ask a deputy to respond to these calls by themselves.”
“Our goal is to catch the bad guy, keep him from doing it again, solve the crime and we have done a good job of that,” he said. “I am very proud of my people doing that but it puts us in a position where I have guys with well over 700 hours of comp time.”
“Our biggest issue is the increase of comp time and the inability to pursue the proactive things like trying to do some things with the schools on school shootings,” Smith said. “It is hard to do things like this when we are trying to do follow-ups on our most recent crimes.”
The additional staff needed by the office puts the sheriff’s office in greater danger of liability issues and puts current deputies at greater risk of being injured.
“Fortunately, we have not had a deputy hurt,” Smith said. “I think we are living on borrowed time. I hate to say it that way but I have done this a long, long time and we are seeing a pattern that is very similar to the late 70s and early 80s.”
Some hiring has been done in the past couple of months but McKinney and Smith said the office is still understaffed.
“We had to hire,” Smith said. “We could not provide the adequate service. We are lucky to have one deputy working on the weekends. In my opinion, that is unacceptable.”
The sheriff’s office is also going to be required to purchase new bulletproof vests for the deputies this year, new crime scene investigations equipment and some new vehicles, causing additional strain on the funds available to the department.
“In this particular case, there is no choice,” McKinney said. “My guys have suffered over the past year. We need to get this resolved.”