SOUTH BEND — More than $11 million will be spent in 2020 to run Pacific County; the first drafted plan on how to spend that money will be available to the public in the coming week.
The Pacific County Commissioners will hold a short public hearing at 10 a.m. Monday, Oct. 7 in South Bend where people can pick up hard copies of the budget. It will also be posted on the county website.
Departmental requests for more resources will be included in the preliminary budget, which will make it appear as though the county is planning to spend more than it has. That is not the county’s plan, said Kathy Spoor, Pacific County administrator. Increased county revenues and a few years of spending cuts left the county in a good position for 2020, Spoor said.
“In previous years we’ve been looking at reductions,” Spoor said. “We’re encouraged that we’ve been able to hold the line.”
The proposed budget will show what increases departments want, such as additional staff, funding for new programs and wage increases. The public will be able to comment on what they want the county to put money toward.
One request that was presented to the county commissioners was from the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office. Two-thirds of the county’s general fund budget goes toward the sheriff’s office and the jail.
Sheriff Robin Souvenir asked for raises for his command staff, which includes Undersheriff Ron Davis and the two chief criminal deputies, Patrick Matlock and Matthew Padgett. Souvenir expects union negotiations this year to result in raises for his sergeants. These raises might result in the sergeants’ salaries being higher than his command staffs’. The sheriff felt that wasn’t right, since the commanders took on additional duties when a lieutenant position was eliminated.
Reviving drug task force
Souvenir also asked for another deputy, who would run a countywide drug task force. He needs someone full time on the task force, which would mean one less deputy on the road, Souvenir said.
“If you don’t have the people on the street you can’t have the speciality positions,” Souvenir said.
The county had a drug task force in 2006 that ran for four years with the help of $1.5 million annually in state funds. The state received the funding from a federal grant. The state reduced funding for the task force in 2011 to about $634,000 per year when the federal government also cut the grant funding for the program in half. State funding continued to dwindle and the task force was disbanded by Sheriff Scott Johnson in 2015.
When state funds were reduced, cities stopped putting money toward the task force and Pacific County footed the majority of the bill for several years, Spoor said in a budget meeting with the sheriff on Sept. 18.
“My question is, how to pay for it?” Spoor said.
Funding that comes from the state would be for two years, said Commissioner Chairman Frank Wolfe in the budget meeting. Counting on the money to be there after the first funding period would be foolish, Wolfe said.
“I totally get what you’re saying,” Souvenir said. “We’ve already reached out to some of the state representatives.”
Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, tried to attach funding for the task force to the budget from the last legislative session. It failed, but he is hoping that means leverage in negotiations next session. He met with the sheriff’s office and other local agencies on Tuesday Oct. 1 to discuss possible funding options for the task force.
Walsh’s plan would cover another law enforcement officer and maybe some funds for additional support staff. But it wouldn’t be as robust a program as the office had before, Walsh said.
The previous drug force covered the cost of multiple deputies, a part-time court clerk, a half-time secretary and a dedicated half-time prosecutor. When the drug task force was in effect, the prosecutors office saw at least an additional 100 cases a year, said Mark McClain, Pacific County prosecutor.
Funding ripple effect
How funding one department might affect the other arms of the criminal justice system is an important thing for the board to consider, said Paul Plakinger, management and fiscal analyst for the county.
Long Beach Police Chief Flint Wright heads one of the agencies that are willing to work with Souvenir if he starts a task force. A task force would be the dream but Wright would settle for one person working on combating the drug problem in the county, he said.
When police arrest someone now, the person will sometimes volunteer to make buys for the department to suss out dealers, Wright said. But there is no one to manage that person. It takes a lot of time to arrange a buy, because drug dealers don’t work a nine-to-five schedule, Wright said.
“You’re almost at the mercy of this person to say ‘Hey, I can go make a buy,’” Wright said. “You have to have the resources, to have people, dedicated to do just that.”