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Undersheriff appeals to Jefferson County legislators to restore funds for 2 deputies

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Undersheriff Paul W. Trudeau asked the Jefferson County Board of Legislators during a budget workshop Tuesday night to reconsider a proposal that would eliminate two vacant deputy positions from his department.

With calls for service, arrests, violent domestic incidents, pistol permit requests, background investigations, felony arrests and drug arrests on the rise, the positions are sorely needed, Mr. Trudeau told legislators.

He said he was willing to settle for just one of the two positions.

“Reconsider, take a look at it and, for public safety reasons, maybe I can get one out of the two,” he said.

But after trading jabs with legislators, Mr. Trudeau left without a commitment in a year where budget constraints are even tighter than usual.

In constructing the budget for 2014, the county is facing a sales tax drop, a $3 million budget shortfall and a dwindling reserve fund. And it is only $118,000 shy of the state’s property tax cap.

But some legislators, including Robert J. Thomas, R-Glen Park, and Michael F. Astafan, D-Carthage, supported Mr. Trudeau’s request.

“I have to agree with the undersheriff. I think the county can’t handle more than two major incidences at once. Crime is not going to go away. ... I’d be willing to take another look at that. It’s money, but money can’t stand in the way of public protection,” Mr. Thomas said.

The discussion about the budget veered slightly off course at more than one point, straying into some of the oft-visited areas of contention between the board and the Sheriff’s Department.

When Legislator Barry M. Ormsby, R-Belleville, chairman of the board’s Planning and Development Committee, asked Mr. Trudeau where Sheriff John P. Burns was, things began to get a little tense.

“I’m not sure what you’re asking. What could he offer you that I can’t offer you?” Mr. Trudeau said. “He’s on vacation. I didn’t just come into the Sheriff’s Department when I was appointed in February.”

Mr. Ormsby’s question was apparently prompted by an extended discussion about jail overbooking, which arose after the undersheriff asked legislators for more money to improve the controls on the security doors at the jail in the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building.

Mr. Ormsby said he would have appreciated Mr. Burns’s perspective on the matter from a historical standpoint.

And a question from Mr. Ormsby about sheriff’s deputies patrolling Interstate 81 brought a similar response.

“You know what, Mr. Ormsby, regardless of what you think about me or the sheriff, if you’re in trouble, my guys will be there to help you,” Mr. Trudeau said. “I have a concern you’re taking two guys off the road.”

Following the board’s discussions with Mr. Trudeau, county Director of Fire and Emergency Management Joseph D. Plummer asked legislators for the ability to hire three additional dispatchers, which he said would cut overtime costs from more than $240,000 to $90,000.

Department of Social Services Commissioner Laura C. Cerow, in one of her last acts before retiring Thursday, also gave a brief presentation to the board.

Before Mr. Trudeau spoke, Jerry O. Eaton, Republican commissioner of the Jefferson County Board of Elections, and Babette M. Hall, Democratic commissioner, asked the board to consider approving pay raises for their positions, where compensation is held in check by the state, preventing longevity pay from being taken into consideration.

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