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Published: Tuesday, 3/31/2009

Williams County sheriff furloughs 40% of staff

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BRYAN - Williams County Sheriff Kevin Beck has laid off nearly 40 percent of his department to help curb the county's projected $1.1 million deficit.

The sheriff handed out the pink slips himself to seven deputies and an administrative staff member whose last day will be Wednesday. The cuts will save about $193,000.

"These people are all members of our team, and unfortunately, I was in a tough position," the sheriff said.

All Williams County departments, from the sheriff's office to the courts to the auditor, were asked to cut 13 percent from their budgets.

Williams County, in the northwest corner of Ohio and with nearly 40,000 residents, is projecting the deficit through the end of this year.

To keep as many deputies on the road as possible, Sheriff Beck reorganized his department by cutting a lieutenant, two sergeants, two detectives, and a drug task force position. Senior staffers then bumped into road patrol positions to maintain 11 people on the road patrol, down from the current 14, Sheriff Beck said.

Those deputies, who probably will average just two per shift, will have to do more investigation themselves and won't be able to respond to minor complaints, the sheriff said.

In a budget that is about 70 percent salaries, Sheriff Beck said he didn't have many other options.

The county will enlist help from the Ohio Highway Patrol and its reciprocal relationships with neighboring counties in Michigan and Indiana when needed, Sheriff Beck said.

Lewis Hilkert, president of the Williams County commissioners, said county officials have been watching the budget closely each month as sales taxes, fees, and all other sources of income have gone down.

Many county departments have cut their budgets by reducing employee hours from 40 to 32 a week or from 35 to 27 hours, depending on the departments, Mr. Hilkert said.

Another option being considered is closing the courthouse one day a week. "We don't have that luxury to keep the reductions at a minimum," Mr. Hilkert said. "We don't have that luxury with the economy the way it is. The longer we wait, the more severe those reductions can become."

Because officials can't close down government the last three months of the year, the county had to plan to get through 2009, he said.

"Everyone is nervous about it and concerned," Mr. Hilkert said.

"It's been a tough decision, but we knew we had to be proactive."

Contact Meghan Gilbert at:

mgilbert@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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