Madison County sheriff: 'We're struggling'

Zac Douglas monitors inmates at the Madison County Jail in this July 2018 file photo.

ANDERSON – Dealing with a tight 2020 budget, the Madison County Council turned down most of the requests submitted by Sheriff Scott Mellinger.

Mellinger requested funding to hire three new road deputies for the Sheriff’s Department, seven new correctional officers for the jail and money to purchase up to 15 new patrol cars.

The council Tuesday initially denied the request for new road deputies, provided funding for one correctional officer and money to purchase five new vehicles.

The council reduced the Sheriff's Department and jail budget by $1.3 million.

“We enjoy in this county one of the best departments in Indiana,” Mellinger said. “The council over the past 20 years has been supportive of law enforcement, but cutting back funding is a mistake.”

Mellinger said he understands the department is a large percentage of the county budget, but noted it has provided more than $1 million in revenues in 2018 that goes to the county’s general fund.

Over the last four years the Sheriff’s Department has responded to between 13,000 and 15,000 calls for service annually, he said.

“The calls are at a higher risk,” Mellinger said. “Guns are being used and more people are wanting to confront the deputies. We need to send two or three deputies to every call, which leaves large portions of the county uncovered.”

He said the additional deputies are needed to make sure the deputies are safe when responding to a service call.

“We will lose deputies to other counties that have a higher pay rate, better benefits and better equipment,” Mellinger said. “The need for deputies is real. We have had no new deputies for five years.”

Council President Anthony Emery made the motion to eliminate the three new deputies, adding that all new employee requests were being denied.

“After we make the cuts we can then consider new employees and would start with public safety,” he said.

Councilman Steve Sumner said the county could afford to pay one deputy from the public safety fund, but the suggestion was not voted on by the council.

“I still think we can find funding for one new deputy,” he said.

Sumner made the motion to hire one new correctional officer in 2020.

Mellinger said a study indicated the jail was understaffed by 6.5 correctional officers and when the jail population exceeds 230 inmates it puts a stress on the officers and inmates.

He said the jail population on Monday was at 310.

“The officers have to enter the cells up to six times per day,” Mellinger said. “When there are four inmates in a cell designed for two it becomes very risky.

“Any additional employees we can get would help,” he said.

Concerning the new vehicles, Mellinger requested $469,000 to purchase 15 and the council voted to provide $234,500.

He said last year the county didn’t purchase any new vehicles and, ideally, the department would replace 25% of the fleet annually.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.

Senior Reporter covering Anderson and Madison County government, politics and auto racing for The Herald Bulletin. Has been working as a journalist in central Indiana since 1977.

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