Budget Tightening Impacting Sheriff’s Department

Clarke County Sheriff Tony Roper presented his fiscal year 2013 budget to the Board of Supervisors finance committee on Thursday night. Although the sheriff told finance committee members Michael Hobert (Berryville) and John Staelin (Millwood) that his department has several big-ticket capital items on the horizon, Roper’s proposed budget defers over $400K of capital spending decisions and may provide some relief from the financial pressure facing the County as it deliberates on its FY13 budget.

Roper also warned that budget cutting efforts had reached a point where his department’s ability to respond to calls was being impacted.

During Thursday’s budget discussion Staelin and Hobert recognized Roper’s transparency on his office’s spending needs. In acknowledgment, both supervisors agreed that they would be open to hearing supplemental budget requests from Roper in the event unforeseen circumstances cause his actual departmental capital needs to deviate from his spending plan.

“We appreciate the way that you manage your budget and would entertain a supplemental request on a capital expenditure for an extraordinary expense” Hobert said.

Roper’s budget proposal included several requests that were preliminarily approved by the finance committee, including a $60K study to look at microwave and communication tower improvements, $83K for two fully equipped replacement police cruisers and $9K for weapons refurbishment.

Roper’s budget plan was also notable for the costs being deferred, including $84K in replacement costs for undercover vehicles, $25K in furniture costs associated with the department’s recent space refurbishment, $100K in savings from a previously approved mapping system software replacement and over $180K in E-911communications savings generated by negotiations with Verizon and government grant offsets.

However, Roper said that the County’s law enforcement staffing and law enforcement infrastructure still faces challenges. One budget cutting solution in particular, reduced overtime pay for patrol officers, prompted concerns from the sheriff that the budget cuts may have gone too far.

Although Roper said that he had not addressed overtime funding in his 2013 budget request, previously agreed upon overtime targets were proving difficult to meet given his current staffing levels.

“Part of my thought process on the overtime is that you can pay me now or pay me later,” Roper said. “We understand that the County is going to look at that whole benefits situation. I understand that that’s your position and we’ll wait to address this.”

“And I understand that your goal is to have a target and to try to reduce working overtime as best you can,” Hobert replied.

“Yes, we have already put that in place and it is an absolute struggle. It’s an absolute struggle,” Roper responded. “It has a direct effect on the number of people that we have out here – our ability to respond – it has an absolute effect on that. When we say that we have a minimum staffing standard – and we’re making these reductions – our ability to respond may be looked at.”

“We recognize that just as the ability to do things in the schools, or the building department, or whatever it is,” said Staelin “as David Weiss was saying the other day, people have to get used to slightly lower levels of service if they’re going to want to keep their taxes down.”

“While I certainly appreciate that and understand the position that you’re in – and I understand that having a few extra kids in a class, and I’m not being hard on education – but if I don’t have a deputy sheriff in the County and someone has a wolf beating on their door… Just hope that it never happens.”

Roper said that although his department has mutual aid agreements with the Town of Berryville and the Virginia State Police, from time to time the sheriff’s department office staffing drops below the department’s minimum staffing levels due to budget restrictions on overtime.

“I’m trying to ensure that we have a deputy sheriff available at all times” Roper said. “That’s my goal and that’s what prompted us to look at minimum staffing standards.”

Roper said that currently both he and the Department’s chief deputy are alerted when staffing levels drop below minimum levels so that they can be prepared to respond from home, if necessary.

“I’m sure that you know that we actually cut general government staff last year and there’ll be more cuts this year,” Hobert said. “Times are tight.”

“I appreciate that and I hope that you know that I manage our budget pretty well,” Roper responded. “But I’ll make the argument that perhaps public safety has been cut a little more than it needs to be. But I’m sure that general government and the other constitutional officers feel that they’ve been cut more than they need to be too. I recognize that position.”

Roper said that from the perspective of the Commonwealth of Virginia he currently has four more deputies than necessary due to the availability of outside funding sources. The positions include a school resource officer, a gang task force investigator and two traffic enforcement officers.

During the discussion, Sheriff’s Department staff also told the finance committee that poor radio communication coverage in the southern part of Clarke County sometimes results in law enforcement officers and fire fighters being unable to communicate with central dispatchers or other team members responding to an incident.

The staff members said that while they were not certain about the exact cost of the communication problem solution, $400K for a new radio tower and repeater equipment was discussed. The finance committee and Sheriff Roper agreed to fund $60K for a study to determine the best approach for solving the problem.

Comments

  1. Blossom Butt says:

    A STUDY that costs $60K? I can understand spending money for actual needs, but I never could understand why this county spends so much money “researching” and “studying” things before it even knows if it can afford to do what they are researching.

    • Especially because they generally don’t act or follow what the study has found, because it can’t be afforded!

  2. 60k for a study? r u kidding me? Take that cash and buy new couches for your club house!

  3. Kenny Gall says:

    “as David Weiss was saying the other day, people have to get used to slightly lower levels of service if they’re going to want to keep their taxes down.”

    I hope Mr. Weiss remembers that if he every needs a Deputy and he doesn’t get one… I don’t consider the possibility of limited Law Enforcement a slightly lower level of service…

    when the “wolf is knocking at your door” and the mutual aide Trooper is coming from Warren Co. or Winchester somewhere and he needs talked in to your residence because he doesn’t know your road name or how the block numbers run, remember that because of the choices that have been made in Clarke has resulted in little to know tax base to support a strong and reliable public emergency response to your needs!

    remember when 700 more acres get protected by conservation easements in 2012 and local businesses only pay $30.00 for their business licenses instead of off gross receipts like every other county that the “wolf knocking at your door” will possible have plenty of time to blow your house down…

    For the price of the 60k study every Deputy and every Dispatcher could have a 10% raise. This leaves out administrators of the Office and would focus on the staff… We already know the radios are poor in southern Clarke County, what is there to study?

    • Bocephus says:

      Was there a staffing issue on Friday when the Sheriffs department had a strong-hold on Rte 7 traffic? I suggest that these road deputies follow the same traffic laws that lead to them pulling people over. Also, keep an eye on the Loudoun deputies (marked and unmarked) that fly through our county. There is an unmarked Loudoun car with a final destination of Red Bud Road in Frederick County that needs to learn traffic safety before he kills someone.

      • Kenny Gall says:

        When I worked for the Clarke Co. sheriff’s Office Sheriff Ropers’ policy was to enforce the laws of the commonwealth. The fact that someone was or is currently law enforcement officer was not a factor in enforcing the laws. In short the Loudoun Deputies were not special..

        Law Enforcement Officers are supposed to be held to a higher standard and be the people in the community that set the example. When you see this vehicle take down the tag and contact Loudoun with the information, they will be able to connect the tag to the employee..

        • Virginiacop says:

          “wolf knocking at the door”???

          That’s ridiculous. It’s gonna take 15 minutes for you to get to my house under ideal conditions. The only thing you’ll need to do is call the ME and figure out what to do with the dead wolf my wife shot.

          As far as I’m concerned we don’t even need a sheriffs office.

          • Lets See... says:

            The Sheriffs Office in Clarke is made up of more than just the Deputies responding to your home. If you have no Sheriffs Office which is ridiculous, you have no Fire & Rescue being dispatched either. So I guess your wife will have to drive you to the hospital too & put your house out if it caught fire or call out that helicopter to medivac your love ones if that car accident happened. If your concerned about long deputy responses move into town or have more deputies on the road so they can break up into sectors to put them closer to your home.

  4. Because I Care says:

    Another $60k that could have been spent on reasonable economic development.

  5. Here’s a FREE study: Your radio system sucks and needs to be upgraded! Save the $60k and get a new radio system!

  6. It's A Math Problem says:

    It’s a math problem, if you have a $400K solution, do you think a $60K study will save you more than 15% (the $60K cost of the study) in today’s dollars not to mention the potential expense of the current systems shortcomings. If you need the comms system, JUST DO IT!

  7. John Staelin says:

    The Finance Committee had a long conversation with both the Sheriff and the head of the Fire and Rescue Association about their needs. They told us the County’s communication system is much better than it was several years ago but was still not as good as they wanted it to be. (For example, they have problems communicating with Central Dispatch in certain parts of the County, especially when in a building.)

    Neither the Sheriff nor the President of the Association currently know the specifics of what needs to be done. The technology is very complex and is changing rapidly. They want to be sure that whatever is done will work with the systems of the future. They also know that any solution would have to be based on a propagation study to make sure that any change to the system would reach as many of the currently difficult areas as possible.

    Both the Sheriff and the Association President said that even though they want to see the situation improve as quickly as possible they did not have a specific solution to offer at this time. Moreover, they felt the County should start the improvement process by working with the kinds of people who have the needed technical expertise. They want the job done right. The Finance Committee showed its support of their work by budgeting funds to get the process going. Some may call it a study, others may call it the first step in a longer process. Whatever it is called, it is needed.

  8. Michael Hobert says:

    To add to Mr. Staelin’s comments, a propagation study predicts the area of coverage from a specific location, height, and radio frequency over a given area, taking into consideration factors such as terrain, foliage, RF competition and desired/undesired coverage areas.

    Different iterations of a study could predict the best coverage from among several different available locations or be used to determine a suitable location if one was needed.

    I am told that it is likely the county could not even get a license to operate a frequency in the public safety spectrum without a propagation study and compliance with frequency coordination.

    For public safety radio coverage you are looking for a high % of coverage. The system Clarke installed met those tests. However, choices made in the use of the frequencies as well as limits on available frequencies limit what a system can do.

    At the time of our meeting, we could only estimate a cost. Both the Sheriff and the Director of Communications indicated identification of the cost would be part of the project to be specified and would be dependent on the scope of the project.

  9. Very valid points a bit more complicated investing in a reliable longterm solution while meeting compliance regs. Since 9/11 DHS created a grant program SAFECOM http://www.dhs.gov/xopnbiz/grants/gc_1288706484072.shtm Can’t say if it has been succesfull program but has driven prices up including propagation studies.. Could be some support from Mount Weather to assure inter-communication with the county? Assuming the need is immediate how about upgrading the existing cell phones with the Satellite connect option.. Short term cost effective fix to call home?

  10. Can they at least get enough money to send a weekly Sheriff’s report to CDN?