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GOP council delays sheriff request

GOP council delays sheriff request
GOP council delays sheriff request
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)

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.
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.

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