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Budget Process Gets Started

Sheriff asks for OK to hire five more officers

Klickitat County Sheriff Chris Mace is asking the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners to fund an additional five employees as part of the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office 2003 budget request.

Included are two road deputies, two corrections officers, and one administrative assistant/grant writer who would also serve as a school resource officer.

The total cost for the proposed five new KCSO staff members is estimated at approximately $210,000 for 2003. The figure covers wages and benefits.

"I would like to add two deputy sheriff's positions to the department," Mace explained in his budget proposal for next year. "A great majority of citizens residing in the most rural parts of the county are consistently requesting extra patrols for either juvenile issues or traffic issues."

According to Mace, his primary objective is to provide more consistency in getting to potential "trouble areas" and offer a more visible presence in rural areas.

The Klickitat County Sheriff's Office (KCSO) currently has a total staff of 49. That would increase to 54 employees if the county approves the staffing requests.

The Sheriff's Office is not the only county department asking for additional help, however.

According to Glen Chipman, the county's chief financial officer, the Buildings & Grounds Department is asking for one more full-time employee; the Public Works Department is requesting one full-time employee; the Auditor's Office is asking for one full-time and one half-time employee; and West District Court wants to increase the hours of one of its staff positions from two days a week to three days a week.

County Commissioner Don Struck said it would be difficult for the county to fund all the additional staff requests.

"That's going to be a tough one," Struck said. "Especially with funding sources for law enforcement cut so much."

Struck added that the county expected to take in approximately $400,000 less from the state in 2003 due to the recent passage of Initiative 695, which limited the amount of revenue the state could get for motor vehicle licensing and excise taxes. Most of that money previously went to help pay for public health and law enforcement programs.

Chipman added that the county's general fund for 2002 was $10.1 million. It is projected to be $10.5 million for 2003, a 4.5 percent increase. He said the county's overall budget was $37.9 million in 2002, and is expected to be $31.9 million for 2003. The decrease is a result of completion of the Dallesport sewer/wastewater project.

"Overall, depending on our salary compensation and health package, we're hoping to hold the county budget within about two percent of what it was last year," Struck said.

Despite the potential funding crunch, Mace said he felt the request for more personnel was a legitimate one. He pointed out that there are currently "certain hours of the day" where deputies are on call, but not physically patrolling.

"We would need a total of six more deputies to do it right," Mace explained. "We always try to have two or three deputies on per shift, so we don't run with less than two. It's a big county, and if someone needs backup it takes too long if we have to call someone in."

A letter of support for additional deputies came from Peter Mercer, chief of Klickitat County Fire District No. 10 in the Alderdale area.

On July 24, Mercer wrote that he saw several reasons for the county to hire additional deputies.

"The Alderdale Road has become a high-speed road of late, and needs to be patrolled," Mercer wrote. "As the farming companies along Alderdale Road continue to grow, so does the amount of tools and equipment. As the tools and equipment grow, the possibility of theft is higher. Nighttime patrols are needed more often."

Mace also asked for two more corrections officers, one of whom would help to provide security for the courts.

Part of the decision to request additional personnel for this position was the result of a request from Superior Court.

On July 18, Superior Court Judge E. Thompson Reynolds wrote to Sheriff Mace, saying he was concerned about courtroom security.

"Our courtroom would be much more secure if we could have a uniformed security officer in the courtroom on criminal motion days and on the domestic violence docket days. This officer could also be utilized when we have a potentially volatile trial," Judge Reynolds wrote. "In the past, you have been very responsive to our requests for security, but I believe it is time to have regularly scheduled security rather than on an on-call basis."

KCSO's other proposed new hire would help the department secure grant funding, and would represent KCSO at schools around the county.

"Violence in the schools is a real community concern, and I believe a presence and a recognized contact representative from the Sheriff's Office will not only make our schools a safer place for our children, but our teachers as well," Mace said.

Struck said the county wants to have public hearings on the budget by November, and adopt the budget no later than the week before Christmas.

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