MAYVILLE - Sheriff Joe Gerace addressed the proposed cuts to his department Monday, at times making a case for continuing - and even increasing - the county's current level of funding to the Sheriff's Office.
"I feel very strongly that we are as low as we should go currently," Gerace said.
Legislators on the Public Facilities Committee were largely sympathetic to the sheriff, who gave an extended presentation on the types and frequency of calls which the department receives.
County Executive Greg Edwards reviews his proposed budget for the Sheriff’s Office at a legislature committee meeting Monday.
P-J photo by Nicholas L. Dean
At the end of the day though, only one of four proposals made to change the budget was passed by the committee. All four proposals came from Rudy Mueller, D-Lakewood, with the one which passed being to reinstate the cut to the county's navigation patrols.
To pay for the service, Mueller proposed increasing the revenue expected from the collection of the occupancy tax next year. The proposal passed the committee in a 4 to 1 vote, with Tami Downey, R-Kiantone, opposed. During discussion of the idea, Downey expressed concerns about how the 2 percent occupancy tax money is supposed to go to waterways projects. She and other legislators also questioned how exactly the county will step up its enforcement of the occupancy tax.
Legislators agreed that the county is likely losing somewhere around $250,000 annually from occupancy tax revenues which are not being collected. Mueller's proposal was to increase the expected revenue and use roughly $64,000 of it to put the sheriff's navigation patrols back into the budget. Along with Mueller, the proposal was also supported by Committee Chairman Doug Richmond, R-Westfield; David Himelein, R-Findley Lake; and Bob Duff, R-Sheridan.
Two of Mueller's three other proposals also dealt with the sheriff's budget - one of which was to cut while the other was to add revenue.
As the 2012 budget is proposed with staffing cuts to the Sheriff's Office, Mueller questioned why the county would still be purchasing several new cars. His proposal to cut cars from the budget, however, failed to pass the Public Safety Committee. His proposal to add revenue to the budget came from increasing the expected number of a certain type of prisoner in the jail from 60 to 63, for which the county receives revenue. Both proposals failed to pass the committee in 4 to 1 votes.
Mueller's fourth proposal was to reduce some of the county's HAZMAT expenses from the budget of the county emergency services coordinator. That proposal similarly failed in a 4 to 1 vote.
At one point during the Public Safety Committee's review of the budget, County Executive Greg Edwards spoke about what he proposed for the Sheriff's Office.
During his comments, Edwards recalled something which the sheriff said to him years ago, when he was in his first few years as county executive.
"He said he longed for the day that, when he met with the county executive or legislators, that they asked, 'What can we do to be more safe?'" Edwards said. "I certainly share that desire with him and hope for the ability to at some point in time in the future be able to pose that question, and to be able to respond in a positive way. That is not this year and that is precisely what I told the sheriff when he came in."
Earlier in the meeting, Gerace made several comments about how "devastating" an impact the proposed cuts will be to the services provided by his department.
"This proposal means a lot of hurt for a lot of people," Gerace said. "Not just the men and women who wear the uniform and proudly do so and protect us and put their lives on the line for us, but also the people that use the services. They are going to be dramatically impacted by the proposal to eliminate that money.
"We have given and given and given to the point that where we can't provide the services, it's going to mean people," Gerace continued. "And when we have to realign people, it's got to come from somewhere because my number one priority is to get a car to the call. If someone calls and they're being assaulted, someone is breaking into their house, something bad is happening, we have got to get a car to their home. So where will those people come from if I have to trim bodies further? Well, I've got to look at the assignments that they're in right now - pull people from their designations, pull people from the Southern Tier Regional Drug Task Force, which I don't want to do. I want you to give me more people for the Southern Tier Regional Drug Task Force, not take them away. Drugs are the root of many, many of our problems and I don't recommend doing any of this realigning. My investigators are up to their ears now with cases."