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The Sheriff’s View #5 for Jan. 26 to 30
The Sheriff’s View #5 for Jan. 26 to 30

Sheriff J.B. King
“It was a dark and stormy night when suddenly...” Actually this quote from the famous author Snoopy has it all wrong. It was daylight with sunshine and a few clouds when suddenly ... the lights in the courthouse went dark. Seconds later they were back on and work in the courthouse continued. I cannot say for certain that the new generator kicked on and saved the day for the first time ever because by the time I made it out back to check the generator was off. But people were complaining about the “stink” of the fumes from the generator so I suspect it did fire up. Long live our big green monster!

It was a good feeling and it brought back memories from 2005. We had a new Sheriff ride into town on his horse (real shortage of patrol cars that year) and when he experienced the first power outage in the jail, the new guy asked why there was no reliable generator for the courthouse. The answer was there never had been a generator and this cannot be done. But being a simple-minded fellow, the new sheriff began to push, beg, cry, and otherwise carry on in print and public until the day when the new generator came to pass and there was light.

The situation reminds me of the law enforcement sales tax proposal - some people say there never has been one and it cannot be passed or otherwise done. Well, actually that is not correct - all we need is a lot of effort. For so many long years now, when the electric power to the courthouse failed, the employees sat in the dark and could do nothing. When you do not have power it does no good to walk to the light switch and turn it on. Nothing happens and you stay in the dark.

Over the past ten years the population growth of Pulaski County has exploded. Our calls for service at the sheriff’s department have increased every year and show no sign of decline. Our deputy-to-population ratio has fallen every year because we have not kept pace with the growth in Pulaski County. With only two or maybe three deputies on duty on any given shift, the sudden arrival of six or seven calls for service in less than thirty minutes leads to the situation where the Pulaski County citizen calls for help and nothing happens because there is nobody left to send. Nothing happens and the citizen is on his own to solve the problem. This is not the outcome we at the sheriff’s department want to see happen, but it does happen and it will get worse.

The 2009 budget has been hailed as a victory because we did not have to lay off any employees. I will not argue that point because I have had to fire employees who did not measure up to our standards and I found that job to be very distasteful. I cannot even begin to think how hard it would be to lay off a good employee who had done nothing wrong. Do you say, “You have done an outstanding job, deputy, but your position was terminated, so turn in your gear.” I see nothing but bad karma all away around the block for this chore.

The bottom line for the 2009 budget is that we gave up 3.5 employee positions and some equipment money. We had to do this given the overall state of the economy and the available Pulaski County budget money in general. You will not hear an argument from me on this point. The sales tax revenue collected in Pulaski County for the year 2008 was $1,891,498.83 and that was about $20,000 more than we got in 2007. I am forced to use my feeble memory today on that figure and I may be off on the 2007 totals but if I am off it will not be by a lot of money.

The figure of $1,891,498.83 represents the bulk of the general revenue fund for Pulaski County. It does not go very far when it is spent. As an example, the inmate board bill at $419,426 accounted for 22 percent of that total. Of course we got back $290,000-something from the state on the inmate board in 2008 so there are other facts to consider when it comes to the inmate board bill.

As I said above you will not hear an argument from me that we did not have to cut money from the 2009 budget in order for the county to survive. You will hear me argue that we need to get in gear and pass a half-cent law enforcement sales tax dedicated to the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department and we need to do it this year “or else.”

The “or else” will be the citizen who calls for help and nothing happens because the law enforcement generator has not yet been set up for use. The “or else” will be the sheriff telling a deputy in January of 2010 that, “You did a good job but we are out of money and you are fired.” The “or else” will be a deputy who is hurt or killed because he tried to handle a job alone that required help. The “or else” will be happy drug dealers who are not afraid of law enforcement action. The “or else” will be people and new businesses who wanted to move to Pulaski County but who could not commit to living in a crime- and drug-infested county. The “or else” will be failed economic development for Pulaski County. The “or else” will be a lot of unhappy Pulaski County citizens. Can we afford the “or else?” I repeat: Can we afford the “or else?”

At this point I will close out the column. Our calls for service count this week stands at 478 for the New Year. I would like to remind everyone to drive with care and to keep your actions legal. We do not have a desire to have you in our jail this year nor do we have the money to waste on your jail time. So please stay away from our jail. But if you must visit you will find the lights are on!

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