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Budget proposal: Jefferson County would cut deputies, shift security operations at airport

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Jefferson County administrators unveiled a budget proposal to legislators Monday night that does not include funding for two vacant sheriff’s deputy positions and would shift responsibility for security at Watertown International Airport to retired or off-duty law enforcement personnel.

The two deputy positions have been the subject of exchanges between the Sheriff’s Department and county administrators and legislators since early this year.

In February, Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns said he would no longer be able to provide security at the airport because of a shortage of deputies. The issue was temporarily resolved until July, when Undersheriff Paul W. Trudeau appeared before the board to ask that two positions left vacant for several months be filled so he could continue to send deputies to the airport to comply with a Transportation Security Administration mandate.

Instead of agreeing to fill those two positions, administrators cut them from the sheriff’s budget and added a $40,000 line item to the budget of the Probation Department.

Probation officers, along with sheriff’s deputies and investigators of the District Attorney’s Office, have county-wide jurisdiction as peace officers.

But probation officers will not actually staff the security positions at the airport.

Instead, retired or off-duty law enforcement personnel will be hired on a part-time basis, Jefferson County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III told legislators.

The money to hire them was put into that account because of considerations about jurisdiction.

Officers hired by the county to staff the airport will have their authority restricted to the perimeters of the airport, according to Mr. Hagemann.

The management of the positions will likely be turned over to the newly hired Airport Manager Grant W. Sussey, sometime after he assumes his duties in mid-November, Mr. Hagemann said.

According to the budget, the county will receive about $25,000 from the federal government to help pay for security at the airport next year. That number is significantly less than the amount originally awarded to the county in 2006 when it first took over the airport from the city of Watertown. Back then, the county hired four additional deputies to support security at the airport and created plans to build a annex for the Sheriff’s Department there.

County administrators have cited dwindling federal funds as justification to eliminate the two positions, particularly as other deputies have retired or moved on to other agencies, opening up vacancies.

The county is in a tight spot this year financially.

Failure of revenue to meet projections in several funds, disappointing sales tax returns, an increased level of state-mandated spending and other costs as well as a concern over a shrinking reserve fund have left legislators considering a budget that would raise property taxes yet spend nearly $2 million less than last year’s budget.

According to the proposed budget, the tax levy — the amount to be raised by taxes — would rise from $48,619,644 to $50,265,644, an increase of $1,646,000.

The tax rate would rise 1.97 percent, going from $6.43 per $1,000 of true value in 2013 to $6.56 per $1,000. A property with a true value of $100,000 would see an increase in county taxes of $13 a year under the plan.

The county would spend a little more than $242 million, a $1.8 million drop from the $244 million spending plan adopted for 2013.

Following Mr. Hagemann’s presentation, county Highway Superintendent James L. Lawrence Jr. and Building and Grounds Superintendent Spike C. Decker spoke to legislators about deferred road and bridge maintenance and proposed capital improvement projects.

Speaking after the meeting, General Services Committee Chairman Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing, said the six-year capital plan developed for the county’s highways needs to be adjusted.

“We’re not at a crisis stage, we still have safe travel, but we have to be aware that this level of funding we’re planning is not going to keep up with the status quo and is not going to get us ahead,” Mr. Reed said. “It’s never a good year to increase spending, but we have an obligation to future boards and to the residents of Jefferson County. ... When you defer maintenance it becomes more costly.”

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