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Sheriff beefing up manpower, equipment thanks to increase in county sales tax

By Carol McIntire

Oil and gas development in Carroll County is a double-edge sword for Sheriff Dale Williams.

On one side, development has brought with it an increased workload for his office: an increase in the number of phone calls to the office, incident reports, investigations and accidents. On the other side, it has brought a sizeable increase in sales tax collections for the county, which is making it possible for Williams to increase his staff, update his fleet of vehicles and relocate the dispatch center.

“The last couple years we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of calls that require us to send a deputy to respond,” he said during a recent visit to his office. “In 2013, we handled 60 more traffic crashes than we did the year before. Our dispatch center is handling more and more calls all the time. Dispatch is located at the entrance to the Sheriff’s Department so, not only are they answering more phone calls and handling additional radio transmissions, they serve as the reception area and handle jail matters, answer general questions from the public and arrange inmate visitation.”

The Sheriff’s goal has been to have two road deputies on each shift, but that is not always possible with vacations, sick time, etc. At the present time, the jail has one dispatcher on each shift. The jail division is down one employee and patrol cars have not been replaced on a regular basis, all because of budget constraints in past years.

All those things are changing.

Williams gives credit to Carroll County Commissioners for seeing the needs in his department and providing him with funding to make changes.

“When I went to commissioners last June about my budget, I told them I needed additional funding for a 3 percent pay increase for all employees in my department, money to cover the additional pay period in 2014 and enough to pay an additional employee; about $104,000 more than last year,” he said. “During that meeting, we talked about all the needs of the department. Commissioners told me to figure my budget again, including everything I need, so I did. When they approved 2013 appropriations, they increased my budget $310,000.”

Williams said the money is being used to hire six additional employees, make one-year’s worth of lease payments for four new vehicles and to finance a three percent pay increase for all employees.

Carroll County Auditor E. Leroy VanHorne said the county’s sales tax receipts for 2013 were up nearly $750,000 over 2012 receipts, which allowed commissioners some leeway when doing appropriations. “In fact,” VanHorne told the Free Press, “our sales tax collections have increased $1.4 million since 2011.”

Carroll County Commissioner Bob Wirkner said the additional funds are allowing the Sheriff’s Department to position itself to become Next Generation 911 compliant and retain its 911 dispatch center.

Wirkner, a former law enforcement official, said the Ohio Legislature passed the 911 Improvement Act of 2008 which was designed to improve 911 communications across the state and develop a timeline to consolidate Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) or 911 dispatch centers. The goal is to consolidate services and cut the number of PSAPs from almost 350 across the state to 93: one in each of the 88 counties and one in each of the five largest cities.

He said he feels it is important for Carroll County to “stay ahead of the game,” and be prepared to meet the Next Gen 911 standards when they are released.

“Just because they plan to have one PSAP in each county, doesn’t mean we are automatically qualified,” Wirkner explained. “We have to meet two sets of standards: one is operational, which is equipment; and two, which is performance, or employees.”

Relocating the dispatch center to the second level of the jail is one way the department is meeting the standards. The new dispatch center will be secluded with access only to authorized personnel, which will allow dispatchers to focus solely on their jobs, according to Wirkner. He said hiring three new dispatchers allows the department to meet the requirement of having two dispatchers on duty each shift.

“The new center is quiet and isolated, which is conducive to the work dispatchers have to perform,” Wirkner said. “The new center also allows room for expansion. All the equipment is modular and can be easily updated.”

Along with the staffing requirement, dispatchers must meet minimum training standards and the dispatch center must provide EMS dispatching either directly or through a second party company.

The department must also purchase Next Gen 911 equipment to be compliant. Wirkner has been working with the Carroll County 911 Committee for several months to obtain prices for the purchase of equipment, which will be financed by the county’s 911 cell phone fund. The county receives $90,000 per year from a state tax levied on cell phones.

The committee was prepared to make a recommendation on the purchase of equipment, but is holding off to see if the legislature removes timelines for compliance from the law.

“Our finances are in good enough shape to be at the forefront of Next Gen,” Wirkner said. “We are ready to move forward, but I feel at this time we should wait to see what the legislature is going to do.”

Williams feels the department is poised to move into the future.

“We have lot of improvements over the last nine years,” he said. “We will keep making improvements so we can better serve and protect the citizens of Carroll County.”

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