MONROE - Monroe County residents' safety has won out over austerity in the debate over freeing up money to keep five deputies on the county payroll.
Despite projections that they will need to cut an additional $1.9 million to balance to this year's budget, Monroe County commissioners last week agreed to a $295,000 spending plan that will allow the county to keep five deputies working through the year.
In a 6-2 vote, commissioners agreed to the plan that involved concessions on the part of law enforcement unions and leaving vacant the positions of three retiring command officers in the sheriff's office.
The action rescinds a cost-cutting move made by the board in November to fund the deputy positions through April. The decision was made in part to allow the officers to continue working while they try to find new employment.
Commissioners Connie Velliquette, Dale Zorn, Jerry Oley, J. Henry Lievens, Albert Poltratz, and Floreine Mentel agreed to support the measure after hearing from Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield that serious crimes in the county have increased 15 to 35 percent.
Chairman William Sisk, who cast one of the two no votes, warned the board that the spending plan could complicate the county's growing budget deficit.
"We are going to continue to mount more red ink on our own backs that we will have trouble paying," Mr. Sisk said. "This makes our job so difficult."
Laying off the five deputies was among the cuts approved by commissioners in November to balance the budget. The idea was to fund the positions into the year to give them time to look for work.
Under the approved plan, unions representing 70 deputies agreed to forgo $1,350 in annual hazard pay that each officer was under contract to receive in December.
More than $180,000 in additional savings will also be realized this year with Sheriff Crutchfield not replacing three administrators - a captain, lieutenant, and sergeant - who are retiring in the coming months.
Commissioner John Fowler also opposed the spending plan.
Mr. Sisk suggested to the board that the savings would be better spent by drawing down the deficit instead of keeping deputies who might have to be laid off.
"There are going to be layoffs if you have that kind of shortfall," he said. "We may have no choice."
Mr. Lievens said Mr. Sisk was painting a bleak picture of "doom and gloom" even though the county had more than $5 million in unreserved funds and savings and was earning extra revenue by housing federal prisoners at the jail on Dunbar Road.
"I think we would be foolish not to save the jobs of these five deputies," he said.
Mr. Lievens said additional, unaccounted savings could result from deputies taking the buyout package that the county is offering to coax employees into retirement.
According to county officials, the cost to pay the salary and health care benefits for each deputy is about $105,000 annually. Deputies, whose annual base-pay top out at $57,959 after four years of service, received 3 percent raises on Jan. 1.
Sheriff Crutchfield said the layoffs and attrition would result in the office going from four to six police cars on county roadways per shift to two to three cars per shift.