For those who thought the Barry County Commission was making idle threats about cutting law enforcement if the sales tax proposal did not pass, think again. Last Friday, Sheriff Mick Epperly was forced to layoff four hard-working deputies to meet the demands of another constrained budget year. It's a stark reminder of the county's current economic condition and the consequences of a "no" vote this past Nov. 8.
For a number of years now, it seems as if the sheriff's budget has taken hit after hit, and this latest round of cuts is going to have a direct and immediate effect on the citizens and taxpayers of Barry County. The loss of four deputies is a major blow to the department. The deputies who have retained their jobs will now face an even greater task of covering Barry County's 791 square miles with fewer deputies and less back up. This combination could be lethal for the deputies themselves and could also negatively affect the safety of the citizens the sheriff's department works so hard to protect. In particular, county residents should expect response times to their emergency calls to lengthen.
As 2012 unfolds, we are hopeful sales tax revenues will rally and the county will see revenues return to the level where deputies can be rehired. We hope the commission will use any increases in revenue to bolster the law enforcement portion of the county budget. If revenues do not rebound, we would like to see the commission consider going back to voters for a sales tax increase. Commissioners have stated they do not intend to place the issue on the ballot again, but we hope they will reconsider. Historically, it has often taken several attempts before voters pass an issue. Barry County is a conservative area and sometimes citizens need to feel the pinch and witness cuts before they agree to higher taxes even if it is a small increase.
As a county and a community, I think it's important to keep those who lost their jobs this past week in our thoughts and prayers and to pray for the safety and protection of the remaining officers who will be working under increasingly dangerous and stressful conditions to keep us safe. We appreciate those who serve in law enforcement, and we plan to keep their welfare in the forefront of the county commission's mind as the new year unfolds.