Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

TOP STORY >> Deputies could fall victim to cutbacks

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office has submitted $4.5 million in cuts to the county comptroller, which will go before the county quorum court on Tuesday.

The county has about a $7 million deficit and Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines ordered every department to take a hard look at their budgets and report back Tuesday.

“The sheriff’s department and detention center are about 70 percent of our budget,” said Justice of the Peace Bob Johnson of Jacksonville. “They will have to take the brunt of the cuts.”

Those cuts tentatively include closing 325 beds at the detention center, releasing 55 civilian and jail staff and three medical staff members at the jail.

The department’s plan also includes cutting 27 patrol deputies and all school-resource officers.
“A lot of the specifics of the budget cuts are still in flux,” said Sgt. John Rehrauer, spokesman for the sheriff’s office. “Every department has been touched.

“It’s all very difficult, but we’ve received a mandate. Our job now is to continue to do the best we can. To get and keep as many deputies out on the street as possible.”

Losing the school-resource officers, even though it just five individuals, hurts. Rehrauer said the department gets a lot of positive publicity and makes good contact with kids through the program and “We had just revamped it and added some components teaching the kids to make better choices,” he said.

Losing school resource officers could affect Northwood Middle School and Cato Elementary locally.
“Without a doubt,” Johnson said, “we will have less county employees at the beginning of next year than we have now. We don’t know exactly who’ll they’ll be yet.”

Johnson said there would be a lot of discussions before the final decision, but beds will be closing at the county detention facility by the end of the month.

If 325 beds are closed, that’ll bring down the capacity from 1125 to 800 according to Rehrauer.
Unless the community gets behind a countywide, quarter-cent sales tax dedicated to expanding the jail, the detention center will continue to wither on the vine, Villines has said.

He said that when the jail closes at least one wing at the end of the month, it would put at least 160 non-violent felons back on the streets.
The county unsuccessfully tried to pass a quarter-cent sales tax in 2000 for the jail during a general election.
“I wouldn’t go before the public again without an indication of public and private support from the community. This is a quality-of –life issue. The first thing people want is to be secure,” Villines said.

He added that rather than closing about 300 beds, the detention center needs to add 200 beds now and another 300 soon, and it needs to support programs aimed at keeping people out of jail.
“There’s no relief in sight,” he said.

“We’ve got to balance the budget. We’ve expended all reserves and carryover, reduced spending and tightened up. We’ve hit the brick wall.”