CANTON — Stark County Sheriff George Maier is asking for a 10 percent funding hike for 2019, in part so he can hire 10 more officers for the county jail and one additional deputy for patrol.
Maier made his request during a budget hearing Monday with the Stark County commissioners. Numerous county departments are in the process of making an annual funding pitch to the three commissioners, who ultimately set the budgets.
Maier’s office has submitted a budget request for $24.54 million in operational funds in 2019 and $2.2 million in capital funding, which includes the replacement of a 2002 pickup truck.
For 2018, the commissioners appropriated $22.18 million for the department. Maier is seeking an additional $1.69 million for salaries and benefits, a nearly 10 percent increase.
“We’re really bursting at the seams with the number of inmates that we’re actually treating for mental health issues,” said Maier, who added that jail officers are taking an inmate to the hospital two or three times during an average shift. “And keep in mind every time we take somebody to the hospital either one or two guards have to go with them depending on the severity rate of the crime or the individual.”
In addition, many inmates are experiencing drug withdrawal symptoms, and Maier said he has to use jail staff to accompany them to the hospital for treatment.
Maier said the average daily jail population was 482 last year and is closer to 500 now. Part of the reason is the state is no longer admitting many fifth-degree felony convicts into the state prison system to save money. Instead, those inmates have to serve their sentences in the county jail.
State inspections have repeatedly pointed out that the county jail isn’t meeting state standards in providing inmates five hours of outdoor recreation per week. Maier said he needs two additional jail personnel for those recreational hours, and he expressed concern an inmate will file a lawsuit.
In addition, the sheriff’s request said his office would like two part-time officers to monitor courthouse security camera live footage.
Maier said his office, which has 258 employees, hired 34 people in 2018, many of them to fill deputy positions. But 30 employees left, some due to retirement but others, as many as four or five this month, for higher-paying jobs.
“We’re dealing with the millennial generation, and they kind of look at the number on the paycheck. They don’t look at the big picture so to speak,” Maier said.
He said his office has 38 vacancies, of which 32 are funded.
Stark County Commissioner Bill Smith expressed skepticism that with the difficulty of finding candidates who pass the criminal background and drug screening that the sheriff’s office would be able to fill all 38 positions soon.
“It’s kind of unrealistic you’re going to get 38 to stick,” said Smith.
Other factors that Maier expected to increase costs:
• His office has increased the number of school resource officers at school districts’ request from five to 15. The school district covers 75 percent of the cost, and the sheriff has to cover 25 percent. Maier said during summers, the school resource officers help fill gaps in staffing in the jail, on patrol and in safeguarding the County Office Building and the Stark County Courthouse.
• The contract for the outside company that provides mental health and medical services to inmates is due to expire. Maier expects a new contract will cost a minimum of an additional 5 percent and possibly by 7 percent as well as a 5 percent increase for the inmate food contract.
• The sheriff’s office needs to replace equipment like bullet proof vests and mace, which are certified to be effective for five years.
Chris Nichols, the commissioners’ director of management and budget, at the start of the budget hearing said the county will be limited to a 2019 general fund and criminal justice budget of just over $71 million. That’s a slight increase from this year’s spending.
Much of the roughly $2.5 million increase in costs is due to 2 percent raises for county employees, which will cost about $700,000, and a 7.5 percent increase health insurance premiums for county employees. The county will have to spend an additional $1 million in 2019 to repay debt. That includes financing of the county radio system and the county paying about $225,000 to cover the costs of radios compatible with the new system for local police and fire departments.
“Moving up against a flat revenue stream, that’s really going to put a squeeze on next year and probably the next couple of years,” said Nichols. “So we’re really going to be looking to try to keep things on the rails. So that doesn’t give a lot of flexibility from the 2018 baseline moving forward.”
Commissioners are expected to decide county agency general fund operating appropriations by mid-December.
Reach Repository writer Robert Wang at (330) 580-8327 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @rwangREP.