Sheriff’s Budget Hike Necessary

Belmont County taxpayers would be right to be furious if they heard that almost any agency of local government had allowed its budget to explode upward by one-third during a two-year period. Elected and appointed officials are supposed to be penny-pinchers on behalf of their constituents, after all.

Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise that Belmont County Sheriff Dave Lucas, whose 2017 budget was $4.6 million, says he needs nearly $6.3 million for the coming year. Don’t blame him.

Be furious at the criminal element, instead. Specifically, be upset about the drug abuse epidemic, which continues and may be accelerating in our region.

During 2019 budget hearings Monday, county commissioners heard from Lucas and his fiscal officer, Kitty Paboucek, regarding the department’s spending.

Much of the increase they are seeking is linked to local law enforcement agencies’ effectiveness in making arrests. That means more people for whom jail cells are needed — and the still relatively new Belmont County corrections facility is out of space.

Lucas frequently has to send prisoners to Steubenville, to be housed in the Jefferson County jail. That costs Belmont County $55 per inmate, per day. For Monday alone, that amounted to a $1,210 bill for 22 prisoners.

Even handling those who can be kept in Belmont County is a challenge. Also on Monday, 142 inmates were being held there. Just a couple of weeks ago, the county was responsible for 204 prisoners.

Part of Lucas’ request is for $189,000 more to pay additional personnel to staff the jail and transport prisoners. Given the workload at the facility, that seems realistic.

But how do county commissioners handle the need? In January, they were forced to cut spending by other departments, by 5 percent, to free up money for law enforcement.

They may need to keep that spending curb in place. It may be possible to trim the sheriff’s budget request somewhat, but Lucas obviously needs additional funds to deal with crime.

The alternative to giving him the money he needs would be to instruct him, in effect, to back off on law enforcement. That would be out of the question. It is doubtful anyone in county government would even consider it.

Commissioners have many responsibilities to their constituents. Keeping them safe is at the top of the list.

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