Elkhart County Sheriff warns of budget and staffing danger - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

Elkhart County Sheriff warns of budget and staffing danger

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Sheriff Rogers Sheriff Rogers

Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers says the budget issues the county has been dealing with are having a dramatic impact on law enforcement, and he wants it fixed.

The Sheriff says no one on staff has seen a raise in five or six years.  Pay levels, especially starting pay levels, have reached a point that the department cannot retain top talent, according to the sheriff.  He says when an experienced officer leaves, it takes time in addition to money to get a new officer on the street.  The sheriff says it takes about a year to get a deputy fully trained, and six to eight months for a correction officer to be fully trained.

Rogers says there isn't any money in the budget to increase pay, and further cuts would have an even heavier impact on staff.  "It's to the point now that if you cut more out of our budget, you're cutting the personnel."

The sheriff brought his concerns to the County Council on Saturday, but the budget problem goes beyond just the Sheriff's Department.  County Commissioner Mike Yoder says Elkhart County is $9 million underfunded this year, and it is only going to get worse next year, if nothing is done.

Elkhart County has effectively exhausted its rainy day fund. it has only $200,000 in it now, and Yoder says that will be gone by the end of the year.  Yoder says the commission has pulled money from economic development and even dipped into the county landfill budget to cover expenses for the year.

Yoder says much of the problem comes from a property tax cut from the state.  According to him residents received a total of $47 million in property tax cuts, but that revenue was not replaced. 

In order to fund the county, let alone increase wages for Sheriff's Department employees, Yoder says, "The County Council will have to look at some sort of an income tax increase for 2015."  He told FOX28 that he expects it to be about 1.25%, which would include a .25% public safety tax.

The tax increase wouldn't have to go through a referendum, but could be passed by the County Council.  That vote would most likely come sometime this summer.

Without the increase in pay, Rogers is concerned about public safety.  "It's going to come to a point when we're not going to be able to provide what [the public] expects.  We're not there yet, but if the hemorrhaging continues, that would be an issue."

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