Sheriff’s office develops three-step plan to combat rising fuel costs

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office has developed a three-tiered plan to deal with the price of gas in tight budget conditions.

With the second half of the fiscal year starting April 1, sheriff’s officials are trying to determine how much money is needed to cover fluctuating fuel costs.

“We’ve just got to take our best guess,” Sheriff Chris Curry said March 30.

The best estimate right now is $550,000, Curry said. That’s $200,000 more in gas than the sheriff’s office had budgeted. Last year the sheriff’s office spent $450,000 on gas but had enough money in the budget to cover the costs.

There are no extra funds this year, Curry said, noting the need for the plan to stay within his budget.

“I am very keenly aware of the citizens and the national message that’s being sent – that government should live within its means,” Curry said. “All of the funds that I have are allotted by the County Commission in the form of my budget. I cannot be irresponsible and overspend that money.”

The three-tiered plan is a “work in progress” and could be changed or tweaked depending on fluctuating gas prices and other factors. The complex plan would proceed from step one to three, depending on gas prices, Curry said. Among the highlights:

STEP ONE:

– Deputies would no longer use patrol cars on part-time jobs, such as directing traffic for Sunday morning church services. Not all part-time jobs – working security for a Fourth of July fireworks stand, for example – warrant use of a patrol vehicle. Any deputy working a part-time job with a patrol car is at the same time available for call from the sheriff’s office, Curry said. The use of a patrol vehicle gives the sheriff’s office more visibility throughout the county.

– All out-of-county travel (with the exception of Jefferson County) would need prior approval. Picking up suspects being held on warrants in other counties would be limited. If Cullman County is holding a prisoner, deputies typically leave to pick him or her up. Now, Curry said, the sheriff’s office will only pick up outstanding warrants during the day Monday through Friday. The outside arresting agency will be asked to hold the individual over the night or weekend, a request the other agencies might not always be able to honor.

“Obviously, if it’s a major crime then permission is going to be granted and we’re going to go get them,” Curry said.

STEP TWO:

– Administrators and investigators would leave their vehicles parked at the sheriff’s office instead of driving them home. Exceptions would include vehicles driven by a designated division commander, an investigative supervisor, an on-call evidence technician and on-call investigator. Parked vehicles would include those driven by training and civil division employees, as well as drug enforcement task force vehicles using sheriff’s office fuel.

Typically, civil division personnel gather papers to be served the next day the afternoon before, Curry said. They take the papers home in a sheriff’s vehicle and start serving papers as early as 5 a.m. the next morning.

STEP THREE:

– Deputies would no longer drive patrol cars to and from work. Instead, they would park them at the end of each shift at one of two locations: the sheriff’s office in Columbiana or Hoover’s public safety building on Valleydale Road.

Deputies currently drive their patrol cars to and from work, which gives the sheriff’s office more visibility throughout the county, Curry said. When a deputy has his or her patrol car at home, they’ve available to act 24/7 if needed.

Also, Curry said, if the sheriff’s office is working a major accident near the end of a shift, the next shift can be notified at home and be ready to come to work early with 15 minutes notice.

– All on-call vehicles would be parked instead of driven home by on-call personnel. If an incident occurs at 1 a.m., for example, the on-call staff would have to drive their personal vehicle to pick up their on-call sheriff’s vehicle before responding to the incident, Curry said.

Though not included in the plan, two-person patrols is an option if needed, Curry said, depending on how severe the financial crunch becomes.

“You can only do less with less,” Curry said. “There will be less services. There are politicians out there that try to dress that up and talk around it. I’m going to tell you the straight up facts of it – there will be cuts in services.”

Curry said all he can do is deal with the funds his office is allocated.

“But we’re not going to mislead the public,” he added.