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Sat, Nov 01, 2014 02:49 AM
Issue of October 29, 2014
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Sheriff Rodney (Rod) Seelye speaks to the county council Monday night with supporters behind him before his request for five new police officers was tabled until late summer. Photos by Ross Schulz (click for larger version)

GOP council delays sheriff request

March 26, 2014 | 08:59 AM

The Harrison County Council, with a 5-2 vote Monday night, tabled Sheriff Rodney (Rod) Seelye's request for five additional police officers.

The council's Republican members — Gary Davis, Phil Smith, Sherry Brown, Ralph Sherman and Jim Heitkemper — voted to table the request until late summer when it looks at the overall budget, while Democrats Richard Gerdon and Gordon Pendleton voted against the delay.

There has been an unwritten policy for some time that the council would not address personnel changes or additions except during the budget sessions, usually held in August and September.

Bobby Barr of Ramsey mans one of the grills during Sheriff Seelye's tailgate party before the council meeting Monday night; some 100-plus supporters attended the event. (click for larger version)
Seelye and the sheriff's department hosted a tailgate party in the Purdue Building parking lot prior to Monday's meeting to show support for the request. Even though it was a chilly afternoon with temperatures in the 40s, more than 100 people showed up for free hot dogs and to encourage the sheriff. Seelye and others passed out pamphlets with information concerning the request. Many of the supporters attended the meeting, filling the council/commissioners room, hallway and the conference room across the hallway.

"I wanted supporters, not a show of force," Seelye said, noting none of his officers in attendance were in uniform.

He said the purpose of the meeting was not to be adversarial and, if they didn't get what they wanted, they wouldn't "take their ball and go home."

Seelye said there was a large contingent of Emmaus and church group members there in support and two mothers of inmates who said their children would not be alive today if it wasn't for Harrison County officers arresting them and putting them in jail. The inmates have since been baptized and showed support for the need for more officers in the county.

Two recent instances were described by Seelye where a Harrison County deputy needed backup but it wasn't available for more than 40 minutes due to a shortage of officers.

Seelye said if the request for more officers wasn't granted, it wouldn't change anything in regard to the way his department operates.

"We're going to do the best we can," he said. "But don't fool yourselves; public safety issues are going to happen."

He then asked the council to approve the request of five new officers and three new cars.

The worst-case scenario cost for the five officers and three cars would be about $464,000. A salary for each officer position would be about $35,000, but, adding in all of the insurance, retirement, etc., it comes out to about $75,000 per officer per year, assuming family insurance is needed.

Seelye said Harrison County has one officer for every 1,724 people in the county. That compares to one for every 1,333 in Crawford County; 1,294 in Floyd County; 552 in New Albany; and 444 in Corydon.

Floyd County has 30 officers and had 15,482 runs for service last year compared to Harrison County's 22 officers and 23,200 runs. Crawford County, with eight officers, had 6,718 runs.

Harrison County currently has 22 officers with a population of 38,148 (taking out the town of Corydon). With the five new officers, plus the already approved two school resource officers, the department would total 29 officers. That would bring Harrison County up to one officer for every 1,300 residents.

Seelye also compared Harrison to Shelby County, which is similar in size and also has a riverboat. Shelby County has 30 sheriff deputies and responded to 11,700 or so runs, nowhere close to Harrison's 23,200 runs with 22 officers, he said.

Davis said one reason to table the request is because the council will have a better handle on what the income/budget figures will be for the 2015 budget. He also said he got the impression people didn't think the council has done anything in the past for Seelye, which is not true, he said. Recent additions, Davis said, included the two new school resource officers added this year; the upgraded police retirement plan added last year at a cost of about $100,000; and a new evidence technician at a cost of close to $70,000.

And some time ago, after the riverboat officers were added and initially paid for by the riverboat, the county ended up picking up the tab for the officers after the riverboat officials said they would no longer pay for them because they weren't needed for the casino.

"We decided to pay, because we knew they were used in the county," Davis said.

Also, two more grant officers were added shortly after the initial eight riverboat officers, but the grant eventually dried up, he said. The county decided to keep those officers on the payroll also, Davis said.

"We've tried to respond to Rod's needs," he said. "It's Rod's job to make a presentation as to why they need the officers, and it's our job to determine if we can afford it."

Davis said if the riverboat revenue is cut or disappears altogether, the sheriff's department, as it stands, will already be the most at risk for cuts.

Five-percent interest of the Community Fund at the Harrison County Community Foundation can be used on a yearly basis, Davis said, and the fund currently totals about $68 million. But, he said he and others on the current council hoped it would have already reached $100 million but it was limited because of costs to renovate the Government Center and provide debt reduction for Harrison County Hospital.

Davis reiterated the long-standing tradition of discussing personnel issues at budget time.

"I see no reason not to continue that practice," he said before asking for a motion to table the request.

Smith made that motion and Heitkemper seconded.

The next commissioners meeting will be Monday, April 7, at 8:30 a.m. at the Government Center in Corydon.

Twitter: @rossschulz

  1. print email
    March 27, 2014 | 12:15 PM

    It was the right thing to do to wait to look at this as a part of the entire budget, even if it might not have been the most popular thing with the crowd the sheriff brought in with him. It's a lot of money and a big change to make in the middle of the year.

    I hope the sheriff's request finds its way into the budget for next year.

  2. print email
    poor presentation equals no officers
    March 27, 2014 | 12:24 PM

    The Sheriff's presentation was not rehearsed and lacking at best! Why did he not capitalize on the facts rather than put salt in old wounds. He talked about how the county needs more officers; then read from slides that he obviously had not rehearsed. Show us holes in your schedule where there is only one officer covering the county. Explain how less officers equals more overtime at risk of burning officers out and creating safety hazards. If you can pay officers overtime; wouldn't it be less costly to add an officers to the payroll or even offer part-time officers positions that do not receive full-time benefits? Big corporate does it all day long. In the end the money has to come from some pot of money. The counsel can only make a decision on the facts. This is not a popularity competition by no means ... This is one position in the county where the elected official should have a Bachelors of Science in Criminal Justice or management related degree.

    Captain Obvious
  3. print email
    Good Job Sheriff & Council
    March 27, 2014 | 01:14 PM

    Looking at the information it makes sense that we are going to have to invest in some additional police officers for our county. It is clear that the Sheriff has spent a considerable amount of time thinking about this and gathering a lot of information. While it is obviously a large amount of money it is reassuring to see that the GOP County Council members are taking the time to look at and study all the information to figure out how we can pay for it. I hope they will give it as much time and consideration as the Sheriff put in identifying the problem and presenting it to them.

    It was rather sad to see that the two Democrat members of the Council did not have the same commitment and rather voted against letting it being studied. Killing it the quickly is not fair to the citizens or the sheriff. Take the same time he did to analyze it.

    I would say that with the information that was given and the commitment by the GOP members to study and find the money to pay for it in a short time the Sheriff will get his officer.

    Good Job Sheriff Seyle and Councilman Heitkempter, Sherman, Davis, Smith and Brown. Keep up the good work!

    Lester S.
  4. print email
    March 27, 2014 | 01:50 PM

    I attended the council meeting and heard the sheriff's presentation. I thought he made a very compelling case to hire additional officers. I also thought that the decision to wait and include any increase in officers in the budget was a wise one by the council.

    It was a party line vote, but I don't think it would have been were this not an election year. That is a shame, as this issue is too important to fall victim to petty politics.

    The sheriff did not say what the impact to overtime would be in his presentation. That would be useful information to have provided, but it may have been discussed at the prior meeting (he made one presentation already on this two weeks ago).

    No discussion was given to part-time officers. Is there even such a thing? We're talking about a police department, not a fast food restaurant.

    The sheriff did not go into details about holes in the schedule. That's understandable. Why get up in a public meeting and tell the bad guys the days and times at which it is best to commit crimes?

    Even if the presentation did not include these things, I think the sheriff's case was persuasive. The explanation by Gary Davis of why it should wait until the normal budget time was also persuasive. They made the right decision.

  5. print email
    March 27, 2014 | 02:57 PM

    I read this article the first time and looked at the numbers and the comments about the decision. I read it the second time and realized we have come a long way in this county. I can remember the days when some politician would have showed up and said he/she needed this much. Then the council would have voted yes or no. What the public would not have seen was the good old boys in the back room deciding who was getting what, who would get hired and how much money some party donor would get. Of if the person was of the wrong political party the answer would have been no.

    This shows where we are today. The proposal was made with a lot of information by the Sheriff. The Council listened and then declared to take it and study it and make a decision later. That is impressive.

    I am a Democrat, and will remain one, but I have to say this. The Republican Party in Harrison County has worked hard over the last 15 or 20 years and they are being elected because they are making a difference. Regardless of where you are on politics you have to say that they have brought professionalism to County Government. I give them a round of applause for this and hope my fellow Democrats are taking notes and learning from them.

    A Democrat
  6. print email
    Pretty Impressive
    March 27, 2014 | 09:36 PM

    ... Rusty Sizemore, who is a Democrat, had a request for a $500 raise turned down. His workload had more than doubled. The Sheriff obtained a big raise for his Chief barely a week into the job ... All in all I wouldn't say impressive. Maybe "A Democrat" should do a little homework before he carries the Republican's water.

  7. print email
    March 31, 2014 | 03:00 PM

    It's not like Rusty Sizemore ran for office knowing full well what the position was paying. Or that he ran for reelection knowing full well what the position was paying.

    Oh, wait, he did.

    When Rusty Sizemore was elected in 2008, the coroner made $9,568.

    In the 2014 budget, the coroner makes $13,130, including a big increase of $2,000 that the Republicans on the county council gave him in 2013.

    That's a 37% increase in total. How many people in Harrison County have seen their pay go up that much since 2008?

    Carrying water, indeed.

  8. print email
    Tabling the Sheriff's Request
    April 01, 2014 | 02:54 PM

    Reading the above comments things get a little confusing. In Ross's headline he called the Council a GOP Council. I was under the impression that we had a seven member council. If this is a GOP Council maybe I should vote "no" on ever issues being a Democrat.

    As I have pointed out in the past headlines can be a little misleading. I don't know why Richard Gerdon voted against "kicking the can down the road" I do know that my vote was not a Democrat or Republican vote.

    Gary and I and the rest of the Council know there will not be a "Magic Tooth Ferry" dropping $500,000 in the kiddy by August. We know right now the amount of funds we will have to work with come August. There will not be an additional $500,000 to work with.

    Then the question becomes why put off the vote? I know that we have a primary election coming up in May. Maybe, we don't want a vote recorded before May.

    March, August or September the question was and will be do we approve the Sheriff's request. Do we have the desire and funds to fund 5 new police officers year after year.

    Neverless, with all the good things the council claims we had done with the budget; I know that we had to subsidize the General Fund with $1.3 million in 2011, $2 million in 2012 and 2013 and $2.5 million in 2014. Another $500,000 in 2015 would mean that the Foundation will be funding about one-fourth of the County General Fund each year.

    At this point in time we do not have an answer, but we will be working to find one.

    Gordon Pendleton
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