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Sheriff Palmer delivers sobering news on budget requests at meeting

“What kind of sheriff’s department you want is going to depend on which budget you decide on passing,” Fayette County Sheriff  Chris Palmer told the county board at its meeting held Tuesday night, July 6, at the Vandalia Moose Lodge.

Palmer had given the county board three budget proposals for his department.

The first budget, which is “bare bones” has some increases, mostly due to wage
increases as mandated by union agreements, as well as overtime pay increases, back pay, and vacation time payouts to multiple employees that have retired and/or resigned.

This year’s budget amendment request is $76,806 over the current $2,499,861, or 3 percent, with next year’s budget being increased by $41,605 over this year’s proposal.

The second proposed budget generally includes the increases from budget one, with additional funds requested to pay for two patrol sergeants and one patrol lieutenant.  Palmer said that he has been unable to find a qualified person willing to serve as Chief Deputy, so he would promote from within instead.  Palmer also asked for funding for a part-time evidence custodian to keep the  department in line with continuing law changes in evidence preservation, plus
provides for new body cameras, tasers and digital storage devices. Also proposed are the  purchase of a new emergency vehicle. This proposal is $108,405 over last year’s amended  budget, or just more than a 4.3 percent increase.  Palmer is requesting the 2022 budget to be  increased an additional $80,000, which would include the costs of a 5-year lease for new body cameras and tasers, and continual pay for the sergeants, lieutenant, evidence custodian, and increases in items like food (for inmate meals) and fuel, which is expected to increase  substantially (the sheriff’s office is only paying $1.86 per gallon under their current fuel contract).

The third proposed budget, aimed at fighting an increased illegal drug presence in
the county, allows for an increase of personnel by removing the interstate patrol deputy.  Per  their union contract, placing the K-9 deputy as a temporary full-time investigator means the interstate patrol deputy would transfer to a road deputy.  By taking this aggressive  stance to fight drugs, this fiscal year budget would need to be increased $174,407 to $2,732,908,  an increase of 7 percent over the current budget, and next year’s budget would increase to $2,732,908.  Palmer admits that the numbers are quite significant, which is why he prepared three separate budget requests and asked the county board to decide how they wish to proceed.

Also, in lieu of some of the budget items, Palmer requested just less than $300,000 of the ARPA funds to aide in offsetting these increased amounts. If approved, the ARPA funds will cover the purchase of two new squad cars, transfer of the K-9 Deputy to full-time investigator status (figuring in the loss  of income from the interstate detail), and the purchase of new body cameras, digital online storage  for all of the video footage being recorded, and new Taser less-than-lethal devices through a 5-year lease  program with Axon.

Prioritizing ARPA funds

Bellwether Consultant Dustin Harmon spoke to the board, giving them a list to write down their personal priorities on exactly how they would like to see the nearly $4 million in ARPA funds used.

As he spoke with the board, a number of items were added to the listing, which he said he needed board members to rank them from their number one choice on, and needed those turned back into him before they left that night.

During the course of the discussion, Bruce Delashmit, also of Bellwether, told the members that uses for the monies, other than capital improvements, should show a COVID related  impact. He also said that while county projects could be done, he also encouraged members to think outside of the box, with community projects being proposed as well. Some community projects were suggested at the meeting, such as helping with the St. Elmo dugout projects, as well as possible job training areas, COVI impacted businesses and other areas.

Delashmit said an ideal situation would be to find an organization under which the project would fall under, and the county donate the appropriate funding to that organization, instead of doing the project themselves. He also said that project could not be duplicates of ones already being conducted.

Other business

In other business the board:

• Approved the reappointments of David Wasmuth, Michael Darmadi and Karen Miller to the hospital board, each for a 3-year term, as well as Charles Barenfanger for a one-year term;

• Reappointment of Janet Ireland as a West Loudon Drainage District commissioner;

•reappointment of Sharon Joandby to the Dively Levee and Drainage District;

•Appointed Travis D. Portz to Browntown Fire Protection district trustee;

• Approved the appointments of Debra Warner, Laura Feezel and Brock Brannon as directors of the Fayette County 377 Board;

• Approved the annual renewal of the liquor license for the Lake Club of Vandalia;

• approved a bid from Plocher Construction Company of Highland to replace a culvert on County Highway 23 west of Saint Peter;

• approved the sale of vehicles with junk titles at the sheriff’s office;

• tabled a resolution calling for an increase to the public defender pay, and

• prior to closing, heard from Merrill Collins concerning contact all local school boards regarding critical Race Theory being taught in the public schools.