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Published: 9/29/2010

Extra funds refused for Sheriff's Office

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Lucas County Sheriff's Office will have to abide by strict budget cuts that have led to the loss of 51 positions this year, without the help of emergency funds from county reserves, the commissioners decided Tuesday.

A motion by Commissioner Ben Konop to award $500,000 to the sheriff's office from the county's rainy day fund to ease the burden of furloughs and layoffs was turned down by commissioners Pete Gerken and Tina Skeldon Wozniak.

Both said the county could not afford it.

"We're not in a position to allocate funds at this time," Ms. Wozniak said.

She said revenue from sales tax is down by $2 million this year, and further budget cuts are anticipated.

Mr. Gerken said the reserve fund has also suffered because of the economic downturn.

From 2008 to 2009, the amount in the reserves dropped from nearly $25 million to just over $13 million.

The reserve fund is expected to remain at the lower amount.

County officials say money from the fund has been used to cover budget shortfalls resulting from the decline in tax and investment revenue.

Mr. Konop said the $500,000 represents only a small fraction of the reserves.

He said the sheriff's office has eliminated 70 positions since 2007, a loss he said puts the community at risk because there are fewer officers to combat crime.

He said providing the emergency funds would help put people back to work and bolster public safety.

"To me this is a very logical, data-driven, and frankly responsible thing to do," Mr. Konop said. "The need is certainly there."

But Mr. Gerken said the agency must stand by the outcome of recent labor negotiations, which resulted in an agreement by sheriff's deputies to forgo 144 hours-worth of wages between now and the end of 2011 by taking furlough days or waiving holiday pay.

Another agreement with the sheriff's command officers was approved Tuesday.

Those officers will have to give up the equivalent of 140 hours of pay through furlough days or other concessions and take time off in lieu of overtime pay.

Jail Administrator Jim O'Neal said he wasn't surprised by the outcome of the commissioners vote.

He said the sheriff's office hadn't expected Mr. Konop's request for emergency funds to go through.

"Sure, we would have liked the extra money, but the reality is it's probably not available right now," Mr. O'Neal said.

Also Tuesday, a request by Lucas County Clerk of Courts Bernie Quilter to purchase case file jackets from a company in Cincinnati touched off a lively debate. Central Business Group outbid a local company by just $149 for the contract to supply more than 16,000 file jackets.

Mr. Quilter told the commissioners that by state law he had to choose the lowest bid, but all three government officials said they would prefer that the money go to a local firm.

In the end Mr. Gerken and Ms. Wozniak approved the contract, albeit reluctantly, and Mr. Konop voted against it.

"I'll do the right thing, which is to follow the law, but at the same time I'm pretty appalled by it," Ms. Wozniak said.

"This is a prime example where it's ludicrous that we can't go with a local firm."

Mr. Konop said the contract should be reconsidered, and going with a local business was the better option, even if it cost slightly more.

"It is better to buy local not only because you're keeping the money here, but you're also dealing with a business that's three blocks away in case there is any problem with the service," Mr. Konop said.

In contrast with Lucas County, the city of Toledo offers an advantage to local firms bidding for government contracts if their quotes are within 3 percent of the lower bidder.

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at:

cbarrett@theblade.com

or 419-724-6272.



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