Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers is asking for a nearly one-million dollar budget increase, as well as additional manpower, for 2018. The sheriff unveiled his proposed budget during Tuesday afternoon hearings before the county council. The sheriff divided his budget into two separate presentations: one for county corrections and the other for everything else.
During his presentation, Myers stressed that his leadership team took instruction from the county council in helping to better identify areas in which the department could improve and, potentially, save taxpayer dollars. These tools include Six Sigma and other programs. In addition, the department enlisted the help of Dana Vogt, a Cummins employee, in preparing Tuesday’s presentation.
Myers first addressed the situation facing deputies and other non-jail staff. He is asking for $3,967,326, a $356,525 increase over his 2017 budget. The sheriff says that the increases are largely confined to the purchase of 11 new vehicles, three new patrol deputies and a three-percent salary increase for employees.
Sheriff Myers argues that the increase in deputies is necessary, noting that response time for 911 calls is slower than what it was in 2016. He blames that on a bevy of reasons, including an increase in 911 calls, the ongoing opioid epidemic and inadequate patrol staffing. Myers cited the U.S. Department of Justice when he told council members that the county, outside of Columbus, only has about 70-percent of the officers it should, based on population. He says that those figures indicate that the department should have 59 officers when it only has 41.
Despite the apparent understaffing, the sheriff noted that he can’t realistically ask for 18 new deputies in a single year. Instead, his proposal calls for three new deputies for 2018, with four more phased-in through 2027. Citing the slower response time to 911 calls, Myers noted every moment matters, especially when you or a loved one needs help.
Sheriff Myers also expressed hope that an increase in deputies on the road will help save lives as it related to the county’s drug epidemic. Since 2015, drug overdose deaths in Bartholomew County, including Columbus, have gone from a single incident to 12 in 2016. So far in 2017, there have been 13 overdose deaths. Based on these figures, Myers says the department is forecasting 21 OD deaths. Authorities say that the death toll from drugs would be higher if not for officers’ use of Narcan. Last year, the sheriff says that 47 doses of the medication were administered by deputies and Columbus Police Officers, saving 35 lives. This year, authorities are on track to save 104 lives.
When it comes to operations at the county jail, Myers says the situation is much more dire. He explained that this year has seen the jail lose its classification due to overcrowding.The sheriff says that each month of this year has seen an “accelerated growth” in jail population. This includes an 18-percent increase in female inmates since 2016.
Myers is asking for $3,654,476 for the jail in 2018. That’s an increase of $626,219 over this year’s budget. The increases, he says, are largely confined to three areas: an increase in staff, an increase in food, medicine and other supplies for inmates, as well as a three-percent salary increase for staff.
Sheriff Myers cited a recent audit that showed the jail is not in compliance with standards set by the Department of Corrections. He says that the jail should have 16 more staff members that it currently does. This staffing inadequacy has led to fights, injuries to inmates and staff, as well as inmates being forced to sleep on cots. Myers says that jail staff are currently using overtime and some part-time help to deal with the situation. However, he says that sometimes leads to inconsistent results in dealing with inmate behavior, along with employee burn-out. In an effort to alleviate these issues, the sheriff is proposing an increase in staffing by seven full-time positions and an unspecified increase in part-time positions. Even with these improvements he stressed to council members that overtime will still be needed in the coming year.
Councilman Mark Gorbett, a former Sheriff, empathized with Myers and seemed to champion his successor’s efforts. He again chided his fellow council members for not doing enough to shore-up additional revenue for county operations. Myers thanked the council for considering his proposal, but finished with a note of concern. Noting the situation at the jail, he said, “Someone is going to get hurt. We cannot continue going down the path we’re going.
The council will make final budget decisions later this year.