IOW sheriff concerned about budget cuts

Published 10:55 am Saturday, March 6, 2010

ISLE OF WIGHT—After numerous budget cuts over the past two years, Isle of Wight County Sheriff Charlie Phelps said that further reductions could affect his office’s ability to meet the law enforcement needs of the county.

“I have always been frugal and intend to stay that way; however, when services have to be cut to the point that it is dangerous for citizens, I must insist that action be taken to meet the needs,” he told the Board of Supervisors Thursday night.

The sheriff’s office depends on two different funding sources: the county and the commonwealth of Virginia, which provides funding to constitutional offices through the state Compensation Board.

The budget proposed by former Gov. Tim Kaine would’ve reduced state funding to the sheriff’s office by as much as $324,057 for fiscal years 2011 and 2012.

“Over the two-year period, I would have to let seven deputies go,” Phelps said. However, the Virginia Sheriff’s Association is supporting legislation in the General Assembly that would restore a large portion of that funding.

“We will not know how this comes out until the veto session in April,” he said.

Reductions from the state Compensation Board for the sheriff’s current budget totaled $72,000. Phelps also said he also agreed not buy any new vehicles this year, which saved the county more than $200,000. However, he said the cost of 10 new vehicles must be included in the next budget.

“I currently have patrol vehicles with extremely high mileage that cannot endure another year without becoming very dangerous, not to mention the repair costs I will be faced with,” he said.

Over the past year, Phelps said he lost two deputies funded by the Compensation Board and two more funded by the county. Another deputy is leaving next month, which will leave the department five positions short.

“I do not intend to fill these positions until I know how many positions I have funds for in the next budget,” he said. “We are currently so short that deputies are responding to calls without backup.”

In addition to the vacant positions, the county has three deputies in the basic law enforcement academy and one in court security training. Phelps said they wouldn’t be available until May.

Phelps said that he currently has two shifts that only have two deputies on duty, which is especially troublesome on midnight shifts.

“If one gets a domestic call, they have to respond by themselves and that is very dangerous,” he said. “If one makes a DUI arrest, we are then operating with one deputy to cover the entire county.”

Additionally, Phelps said that adequately securing the county’s new Young-Laine Courts Building would require three additional court deputies. He also said that certain types of crime, like domestic violence, have been increasing as the economy struggles.

Despite this, Phelps said that he was notified that if he didn’t submit a reduced budget, the county’s Budget and Finance Department would reduce the budget by 5 to 7 percent.

“I am willing to work with budget and finance as much as I can, but I am not willing to cut services to the citizens to the point that living in Isle of Wight County is not safe,” he said. “I feel we have taken advantage of every resource we can to maintain a realistic budget and to keep costs as low as possible, but when you are looking at a $600,000-plus reduction in an already limited budget, the future looks bleak.”

Newport District Supervisor Stan Clark said that he wants the sheriff’s office to be able to maintain its current level of service to the county’s residents.

“I know you laid the groundwork tonight with what you told us, but you need to come back and tell us exactly what you have to have monetarily to stay at your current level of service,” he told Phelps.