With the impending loss of one-third of his deputies, Hardin County Sheriff Craig Leeth said county residents can expect to see response times to their calls increase, investigative services drop, and more deadbeat dads go unchecked.
"It's just going to have a detrimental effect all the way around," said Sheriff Leeth, who announced last week he would be laying off four deputies May 21 and not replacing two veteran officers - one who retired Friday and another who plans to retire July 1.
The cuts are being made in an attempt to save about $140,000, which was cut from the sheriff's 2004 budget. All county department budgets were reduced by 6 percent this year because of declining local sales tax revenue, reduced local government funding from the state, and poor return on county investments, said Commissioner Jerry Cross.
"We don't like the layoffs," Mr. Cross said. "I've been in business all my life and you certainly hate to have layoffs. I feel for them and their families, but on the other hand when you get down to the point where there's no money. . . ."
County officials are hoping for some salvation from Wal-Mart, which plans to break ground in two weeks for a superstore in Kenton.
"It'll be a year before they're up and running, but that will
help us generate more sales tax," Mr. Cross said, adding that he expects to see people coming from neighboring Wyandot, Marion, and Union counties to shop at the new store.
Sheriff Leeth last fall approached commissioners about asking voters to approve an increase in the local sales tax to stave off the cuts in his department, but commissioners were not interested.
Mr. Cross said he still isn't.
"I've had people out on the street talk to me and say, 'Could you put a sales tax on?' That's something we don't want to do, but if people want the services of the sheriff's department, that may be something we'll have to look at," said the county commissioner. "I'm not in favor of it because I think people have been taxed to death."
In Hancock County, voters approved a 0.25 percent increase in the county sales tax in May, 2003 to head off drastic cuts at the sheriff's department and jail.
Sheriff Leeth said he did not make personnel cuts sooner because the department was in the midst of contract negotiations with its 18 deputies.
Four nonunion corrections officers who work in the county's five-day jail will not be affected by the layoffs - for now.
"If further cuts are necessary, that may be where I cut next," Sheriff Leeth said. "If inmates become a problem, that will be the commissioners' headache, not mine."
Hardin County operates a jail where minor offenders and drunken drivers may be housed for up to five days. More serious offenders are taken to a multi-county jail in Marion County.
Last year, 730 inmates were arrested and housed at the five-day jail in Kenton.
Sheriff Leeth said he has worked hard since taking office in 2001 to beef up road patrols and drug investigations, to reduce response times, and train officers in specialty law enforcement areas.
"In my opinion, we made a lot of progress in the last three years," he said. "With these cuts that's all going to go right down the tubes."
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-353-5972.