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Published: Friday, 10/21/2005

Hancock County gets tips for saving cash


FINDLAY - While declaring the Hancock County Sheriff's Office "a lean organization," state auditors yesterday suggested a few ways the county could tighten its budgetary belt.

The audit report - which was requested by commissioners last April - comes less than three weeks before voters will decide whether to approve a 0.25 percent increase in the local sales tax, which would generate about $2.5 million a year to help pay for criminal justice operations, including the sheriff's office. Some critics of the tax proposal say the county has not done enough to operate efficiently and needs to work with other governmental agencies to avoid duplicating services.

In a presentation to county commissioners, Betsy Bashore, assistant chief auditor for State Auditor Betty Montgomery, said a six-month performance audit of the sheriff's office showed that the agency could save nearly $720,000 in the coming years by drastically reducing the amount of severance pay employees are permitted to accumulate.

Currently, sheriff's deputies may accumulate up to 960 hours of sick time that they can cash in when they retire or resign. Ms. Bashore suggested that figure be reduced to 360 hours to minimize the county's future liability, but pointed out that such a change would have to be negotiated with employee unions.

She said staffing levels at the sheriff's office were in line or lower than comparable sheriff's offices in Ohio, although a part-time clerical worker could be eliminated at a savings of $17,746 a year once the sheriff implements an automated case-file management system.

Although not labeled a recommendation, the audit also suggested the sheriff "consider working with the city of Findlay and other municipalities to develop a plan for consolidating redundant dispatch functions and develop a jointly funded, county-wide operation."

Sheriff Mike Heldman said he has broached that topic with Findlay Chief Bill Spraw but said it clearly needs further discussion. Police dispatchers currently respond to 911 calls made within the city limits, while the sheriff's office next door handles 911 calls from the rest of the county and from cell phones.

Findlay Mayor Tony Iriti, who was not at the meeting, said yesterday that the idea was "a great possibility" that he has been discussing internally for at least a year. It would save personnel and equipment costs.

"It's a great example of how the city and county could go together, work together in areas and become more efficient on both sides," he said.

County Commissioner David Spahr said the time for such a collaboration could come when the agencies need new and undoubtedly expensive equipment.

"It could really save this community a lot of money if we could get by with one system rather than two," Mr. Spahr said.

A copy of the audit report is available at www.au-ditor.state.oh.us.

Contact Jennifer Feehan

at jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.

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