When individuals and families are facing a tight budget because of job layoffs or rising costs, the first thing they usually do is cut luxuries like going to the movies or eating out. They might even sell unneeded items at a yard sale or on eBay.
With that spirit in mind, it’s time for Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. to sell his tank. And throw in the speedboat while he’s at it.
Leis is grumbling because county commissioners proposed closing the aging Queensgate jail as part of numerous cuts to avoid a deficit in the Hamilton County budget next year. The 2009 budget already has been slashed $40 million below this year’s level, and more cuts are likely.
The red ink is mostly due to two factors: sluggish sales tax collections and cuts in state funding.
Despite that reality, however, the local Republican Party chairman — as well as Leis and many of the GOP judges who dominate the county courthouse — are whining that commissioners should cut Hamilton County government’s administrative costs further.
GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou recently wrote on his blog, “It seems the two Democrat county commissioners have managed the public’s funds and managed our county operations in such a way as to deliver a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card to several hundred dangerous criminals.
“When the Democrats took control of county operations two years ago, I knew it would be bad. It is far worse. Public safety is not a Democrat priority because so much of their liberal base is hostile to those who provide it. We’re seeing the results of that now.”
What Triantafilou and his colleagues hope the public doesn’t realize is that administrative functions account for a mere sliver of the county budget. The “public safety” component — which includes the Sheriff’s Office and courthouse operations — totals 69.2 percent of all spending. Another 4 percent is allocated to pay county debt.
That leaves about one-quarter of the budget to cover costs for all other offices and departments like the county auditor, board of elections, engineer and public works. A portion is for duties mandated by the state of Ohio, meaning they can’t be eliminated.
The aging Queensgate facility is one of five jails operated by the county. It houses about 450 inmates at any given time who would be released if it closes, Leis says. About 109 Sheriff’s Office staffers would also be laid off. But there is fat that can be trimmed.
Further, I’ve written before about how Leis likes to trot out all his shiny toys for the Harvest Home Parade each September in Cheviot — including a tank, a high-powered speedboat and other goodies. Valuable staff time is used to march in the parade. Whenever criticism arises, the sheriff’s flak replies that most of the equipment was bought with federal grants that restrict their use.
Still, symbolism is important, and these little-used items should be put up for sale, just as GOP heroine Sarah Palin sold a state of Alaska jet she considered excessive. And surely there are better uses of staff than parade duty.
Meanwhile, the county commission has consistently tightened its belt since Democrats took control two years ago.
In that time, Democrats David Pepper and Todd Portune have eliminated the positions of deputy county administrator, construction executive and policy analyst — all high-priced jobs added by their Republican predecessors. Pepper and Portune are abolishing at least 10 more positions for 2009.
When Pat DeWine joined fellow Republican Phil Heimlich on the commission in late 2004, they promised a “revolution” that would reduce the size of county government and cut costs. A look at the numbers, though, tells a different tale about who the true revolutionaries are.
From 2005 to 2009, the county’s administrative budget was cut by 45 percent. That amount will decrease another 36 percent next year alone.
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