DARKE COUNTY — The Darke County Sheriff’s office has requested a budget increase of $309,373 for the coming year from Darke County, citing drug-related expenses and other concerns that threaten to overtax the department’s existing resources.
“The sheriff will need to have an increase next year, all because of the drug problem,” the Darke County Board of Commissioners reported. “The sad part is almost all of the coroner’s and sheriff’s increases in needed appropriations and arrests are in direct relationship to the drug problem.”
Commissioner Mike Rhoades cautiously echoed these sentiments. “I can’t really say it’s all drug-related,” Rhoades said, “but that sure seems to be the common denominator.”
Rhoades noted that in addition to the county sheriff’s resources being spread thin in the effort to deal with numerous drug-related offenses, the Darke County Coroner’s Office has also been affected, causing it to run low even on such vital equipment as body bags.
Darke County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mark Whittaker confirmed that issues relating to the drug problem were a major factor in the requested budget increase, citing a number of expenses that go along with an ever-increasing jail population. Among other costs, the sheriff’s office is legally responsible for providing medical care for inmates during the length of their incarceration, up to and including paying for doctor’s appointments and prenatal care for pregnant prisoners. This accounts for $50,000 of the proposed budget.
“Just because you go to jail doesn’t mean your high blood pressure stops or you stop being sick,” said Whittaker. “We have prisoners struggling with addiction-related issues. We recently had four pregnant inmates in our custody at the same time. We’re looking at an increase in the number of older prisoners with health concerns. And we have to take care of all those folks.”
Transportation and housing of prisoners is also a big concern, Whittaker said, with Darke County inmates being held at five different jails in surrounding counties at various times, in some cases ringing up costs of up to $50 to 60 per prisoner each day. In addition, the sheriff’s office requires increased funding for such everyday costs as repairing doors and other equipment and providing enough meals to feed the increasing population, as well as trays on which to serve them.
Finally, another large portion of the budget increase would fund salaries for two new full-time deputies to the tune of $120,000 as part of the department’s School Resource Officers (SRO) program. The program was given a trial run this year, with a single deputy working 20 hours a week at two different area schools, providing added security, dealing with trespassers, using their expertise in such matters as drugs and inappropriate texting to assist teachers with lessons in the classroom, and providing a point of contact between students and police officers that otherwise might not be there.
The proposed increase would allow for two new deputies to take up patrol duties during school hours, while two others would be devoted exclusively to the SRO program, one working full-time at Mississinawa Valley Schools while the other splits his time between Tri-Village and Franklin-Monroe Schools. The Sheriff’s office has contracted with those school districts to compensate them for the salaries of the SRO officers, with the funds requested from the county going to cover salaries for the new patrolmen.
The Darke County Commissioners will vote on the 2018 budget next week. Decisions about funding and appropriations will be made in December.