Sheriff addresses budget issues; action by commissioners

By Sarah Hawley -

Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood reads from a prepared statement while addressing the media on Wednesday morning.

Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood reads from a prepared statement while addressing the media on Wednesday morning.

Sarah Hawley | Sentinel

POMEROY — Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood addressed the recent action taken by the Meigs County Commissioners regarding the budget for his office during a press conference on Wednesday morning.

Sheriff Wood read from a prepared statement, as well as answered questions and provided additional remarks on last week’s action. (The prepared statement can be read in its entirety below).

During the Feb. 20 meeting of the Meigs County Commissioners, the board unanimously approved a resolution to place the sheriff’s office on a quarterly spending plan. The action came after the sheriff’s office exceeded its 2019 budget, spending 71 percent more than the original amount allocated, according to the resolution.

Wood stated that the budget of the sheriff’s office is unpredictable as it is dependent on the crime in the county from year to year or even month to month. While the sheriff’s office is allocated a specific amount of money for things such as housing, salaries, inmate medical and other items, those items can and have exceeded budgets, something Wood said is connected to the opioid crisis.

In 2019, the sheriff’s office was allocated $180,000 for inmate housing. Wood and administrative assistant Cheyenne Martin explained that that amount was used up by around May, as has been the case in many years. Once that allocation is used up, the office asks for approval to transfer money from the other line items, primarily salaries, to help cover the additional expenses. This creates a shortage in the salaries line, as well as the housing line later in the year, resulting in the office asking the commissioners for additional funds.

One example provided during the press conference was the cost to house a single inmate at the Washington County Jail from May 2019 through January 2020 (the most recent month the bill is available for). The cost for one inmate for that time frame was $18,462. The inmate continues to be held at a cost of $68 per day.

The sheriff’s office can only hold six inmates in its own jail, leading to many inmates being housed at outside facilities every day with costs varying based on the facility. The sheriff’s office has been working to negotiate contracts with some facilities for a reduced rate on housing.

Medical expenses for inmates can also be an unpredictable budget item. As Major Scott Trussell stated in last week’s commissioner meeting, the sheriff’s office is expecting a large medical bill related to a hospital stay for an inmate. When a person is incarcerated the expenses for the person’s medical care falls back on the county.

Salaries for employees and an additional hiring has been one of the budget items that has been a point of contention regarding the budget.

Wood stated that Chief Deputy Charlie Mansfield and fiscal office employee Jessica Snoke both left the office and were not replaced in 2019. In not replacing either, Sheriff Wood said it saved the office money, but placed additional workload on the lone remaining administrative assistant.

With taking on extra duties, Wood initially indicated he would give Martin a large pay increase, but after discussions with Commissioner Tim Ihle and other office holders, Wood retracted the pay increase. Instead, Wood said he spoke with the auditor to find out what people in similar administrative positions in the county are being paid and adjusted the pay increase to be more in line with those numbers.

The sheriff brought on a part-time employee in recent months as a police records clerk, with her duties relating to the conceal carry weapon permits, background checks, civil service processing, entering information into the LEADS system and other duties. Wood stated that in the past, the judges in the county had spoken with him regarding adding a person to the office to help with the civil service processing (subpoenas and other papers which need to be served). The judges had looked into available funding from the state for such a position at the sheriff’s office, but funding was not available. Wood said that he was able to employee a person part time, utilizing CCW fees and other fees to cover a portion of the salary.

Turning to another portion of the resolution approved during last week’s meeting, Wood focused on an area near the end of the resolution which stated, “The Meigs County Commissioners have discovered many line items that exceeded the appropriation, further the commissioners were made aware of MOUs that have created excess spending that have been deemed unlawful by legal opinion.”

Wood addressed that matter on Wednesday, stating that he, along with the county’s legal counsel at CORSA are not aware of any illegal MOUs (memorandum of understanding).

He explained that MOUs have been put in place between the union and the sheriff’s office when things that are in the contract need to be modified. Those documents are drafted by the attorneys for either side and must be signed by both parties.

Wood said that he is working with the attorney and plans to further address the claim with the commissioners, possibly asking them to retract that portion of the resolution.

Moving forward with the quarterly spending plan, Wood and his staff are meeting weekly to discuss the budget and have invited one of the commissioners to sit in on the meetings and be part of the discussions.

Wood, Trussell and Martin all invited members of the public to set up a time to meet with them regarding any concerns or questions they may have about the budget or the operations of the sheriff’s office.

The entire prepared statement from Sheriff Keith Wood appears below.

This sheriff’s office is like any business where employees’ wages and benefits comprise the largest line items. Most businesses hire according to demand when it comes to staffing; the uniqueness of the sheriff’s office is that crime is the main indicator. Crime is the demand for more deputies and resources, this reflects the root cause of our crisis. Over the years that I have been Sheriff, the Gallia-Meigs drug task force has taken $9.3 million dollars’ worth of drugs off our streets. They served 536 indictments based on 1,781 counts, conducted 297 search warrants, 1/2 Million dollars, and 205 illegal firearms from drug dealers. These things would not have happened without the collaboration of four agencies, The Meigs County Sheriff’s Office, Gallia County Sheriff’s Office, Gallipolis City Police Department, and the Middleport Police Department, and for that we are grateful. Again, reacting to crime, per our sworn oath, is not only our duty, but it warrants action.

We can’t say that this is the first time in history the budget has been in crisis mode for the Sheriff’s Office, but I can say the amount of crime we manage, and the costs associated with that management, are not predictable. The budget crisis isn’t any more dire now than it has been in the year’s past; managing crime has always been an expensive business.

Many sheriff offices across Ohio deal with budget issues with the amount of crime never being predictable. Traditionally, the Sheriff’s Office is the largest ticket item in the general budget, and it is common for Sheriff Offices in Ohio to occupy about 25% of the county general fund.

We pledge to you Meigs County, that we will continue to make arrests in order this fight against the crime and the drug activity in this county. All arrests cost the taxpayers money; whether we are housing the inmates locally, or when we are transporting them to outside facilities. Transporting inmates is a necessity for our county because we do not have a jail large enough to house the number of inmates, we have in custody daily, so yes, it is a costly budget item. We constantly work to stay within budget by having weekly meetings, however, the growing crime rate and increasing costs associated the management of inmates is the direct result of our continued budget issues. Because we cannot house all the incarcerated inmates arrested in our facility, we are forced to house these inmates outside our county. This results in our deputies spending valuable man hours transporting inmates, hours that they are unable to spend in the county patrolling and responding to your calls. It is our duty to bring inmates to and from court, often for multiple trips over several months, until a case is resolved; consequently, this poses a strain on our budget. We pay RETAIL cost when we house inmates outside of our own jail.

I have been advised of social media posts that are not only inaccurate, but one-sided. Please know that social media is not always the best resource for factual information. The sheriff’s office will continue to observe our social media policy, and we therefore don’t debate official business via targeted social media posts. The accusations mentioned have been brought to our attorney’s attention to review the various false statements made and to determine the most appropriate action needed. I, Sheriff Keith Wood, want to let you know that we are prepared and ready to answer all questions concerning this office and our business procedures… and we always have been.

Many youth programs, which we should be proud of, have been added since I was elected to be your Sheriff. The School Resource Officer program was a collaborative effort through the efforts and determination of Eastern, Meigs, and Southern Local School District’s funding and with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office Drug Use Prevention Grant. With these efforts, we were able to secure a school resource officer in each school district. The protection of our children and staff at these facilities should be a priority county wide. Since elected, it has been a goal to constructively target the youth of our county, through positive interaction and association with our deputies. To effect this, I have partnered with numerous organizations throughout my time as Sheriff to incorporate many events, which include Hooked on Fishing Not on Drugs, Drug Prevention Day at the Meigs County Fair, ID Safe funding, and our annual Shop with a Cop program Also, working with our county school districts, we have added a School Safety Council. This council is designed to ensure all schools can share safety plans and implement the best possible program for the children in our community. In 2019, grant money collected by two school districts was awarded to the Sheriff’s Office which allowed two School Resource Officers to participate in DARE School and provided safety training.

My 43 years of experience has taught me many things by working in the field myself as an officer. A priority that I have felt from day one when becoming your sheriff was to get better equipment, pay, training, and encourage community policing in our county for the citizens of this county. The seizure of drug money is dedicated to two things, youth programs and the betterment of the officers to do their jobs. Additionally, partnering with area agencies and our local schools has allowed us to pool resources, secure grants, and build stronger programs for this community that I call Home. The Gallia-Meigs Task Force has proven success and phenomenal numbers. We recently welcomed the Ohio State Patrol into this Task Force. This will allow for greater law enforcement to Gallia and Meigs County, to combat this drug crisis with interdiction and apprehension.

We pledge to you, Meigs County, that we will continue to make arrests in order to keep up the fight. If the commissioners believe effecting a quarterly spending plan allows for better monitoring of these costs, then we will work with them in any way necessary, however, quarterly monitoring does not change the management of the crime that we face, and the costs associated. The history of our budget shows that we have consistently exceeded the budget, each year. Again, reacting to crime per our sworn oath, is the crisis at hand. Law enforcement is an expensive business, yet vital to keeping our community safe, and free of being a target of out of state drug dealers, and the associated criminal element that follows.

My door is open. Thank you for your time and for your continued support.

Sheriff Keith O. Wood

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Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood reads from a prepared statement while addressing the media on Wednesday morning. County Sheriff Keith Wood reads from a prepared statement while addressing the media on Wednesday morning. Sarah Hawley | Sentinel

By Sarah Hawley

Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.

Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.