Update: Wood County sheriff explains need for additonal deputies

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PARKERSBURG, W.Va.-(WTAP) Update: 3/19/2019 6:05 P.M.

The Wood County Sheriff's office in recent years has been busy-and getting busier.

"We answered 21,117 calls (in 2018)," Sheriff Steve Stephens explained Tuesday. "And we're on pace to beat that record this year, already."

The sheriff Monday asked Wood County Commissioners for funding for five additional deputies. The current force, including detectives, the drug unit and a school resource officer, serves 41,000 of the county's more than 80,000 residents.

Here's how all this breaks down: the sheriff's department is currently budgeted for 36 deputies. That's exactly half of the number of officers the Parkersburg Police Department is budgeted for. And those deputies cover more ground than police officers in Parkersburg, Vienna or Williamstown.

And even when the department gets to its full strength, the sheriff says those deputies won't immediately be on the road.

"Of those 36, I will have one waiting to go to the academy, one who will be in the academy, and one waiting to graduate in July. So I will officially be down three officers, even though they will officially be on the payroll."

Stephens in 2018 lost veteran deputies to retirements, mainly because of retirement incentives put into effect by the state of West Virginia.

A pay raise was approved by the commission, due to money saved when the holding center was transferred from the county to being operated by the state.

That raise helped increase interest in the department, but Parkersburg Police also has incentives to attract recruits.

The county has one deputy for every 1,100 residents. According to figures Stephens presented to the commission Monday, Parkersburg has one police officer for every 418 residents, Vienna has an officer for every 519 citizens, and Williamstown has one officer for every 415 residents.

The sheriff says local residents largely support law enforcement. But the demand for their services is strong.

"People in the county want to see a deputy when they call. They don't want to talk to somebody on the phone. They want a deputy sheriff to come to their house and deal with them. And I fully understand that, and I fully support that."


Update: 3/18/2019 5:15 P.M.

Elected officials dealing with law enforcement and the courts made their budget requests to the Wood County Commission Monday.

All of them said they need additional employees.

And they did so understand the commission faces another tight budget year.

Commission President Blair Couch says the county's only way of raising revenue is to increase the property tax levy rate, one of the lowest in West Virginia.

"We've done everything in our power to reduce our expenditures, (including) cutting outside agencies," Couch said after Monday's meeting. "We have to spend some sleepless nights thinking about how we'll satisfy all our elected officials with their requests."

Commission members have noted that, of the money residents pay in property taxes, only a portion goes to Wood County government. Another portion goes to Wood County Schools.

Sheriff Steve Stephens asked the commission Monday for five additional sheriff's deputies, noting the deputy-to-resident ratio is higher than the ratio for city police officers.

Prosecutor Pat Lefebure requested another assistant prosecutor, and Circuit Clerk Carole Jones says she needs more employees for her office.

The sheriff received money for deputy pay raises last year, and says that has helped morale in his department.

Lefebure and Jones both said they would accept money for raises for their employees, if it could be found in the new budget.


Update: 3/14/2019 5:00 P.M.

Five department heads presented their agencies' budget requests to the Wood County Commission Thursday.

Most of the requests were for the same amount of money or for a small increase compared to the current fiscal year's budgets.

One of the requests came from the 911 Center, which is concerned about the declining amount of revenues it is getting from land line telephone fees.

"We've been in negotiations with the state to look at another avenue for the land lines. It's a dinosaur and an antiquated funding mechanism from 20 years ago. We have to find another-type mechanism."

Revenues for the coming budget year, mainly from property tax valuations, are projected to be the same as for the current year.

Budget requests also came from the assessor, county clerk, technology and maintenance departments.

The prosecutor, sheriff and circuit clerk present their requests Monday.


3/7/2019

The Wood County Commission is getting ready to start crafting a budget for the next fiscal year that begins in July.

Commission President Blair Couch says the budget, when it is finalized, is expected to be a tight one again.

The county does not expect additional revenue this year from property taxes.

And it's believes savings the county has realized from its regional jail bill will be offset by other expenses.

"We anticipated that savings at $700,000," Couch says. "Between the pay raise we gave our deputy sheriffs, in order to keep them, and the anticipated cost of voting machines, I think that $700,000 is going to be ate up."

The commission Thursday heard from the WVU Extension Office, which gets its funding from the county.

Extension agent Jodi Smith says the office's funding request is for the same amount as for the current budget year.