CINCINNATI — Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil said people will see “changes in services across the board” because he has to let his department dwindle from last year's staffing of 930 deputies to 800 amid a $5.5 million shortfall.
All Hamilton County agencies, including the sheriff’s office, entered 2019 with less money than they told county commissioners they needed to continue providing a full array of services. Neil’s department specifically lost $5.5 million in county funds, he said in December.
Neil announced he will lay off 10 deputies in March during a Thursday morning news conference. Neil stopped hiring in July and expects numbers to drop because of attrition -- resignation, termination, retirement and employees leaving for another agency. The department had 900 deputies at the start of 2019. Now, it's down to 896.
The sheriff's office is the only full service local law enforcement agency, Neil said. Deputies work in jails, courts and law enforcement, and Neil said all three branches will be impacted as staffing decreases. Three of the deputies who will be laid off are in administration, three are from court services and four are from enforcement, Neil said.
“Public safety, day by day, there’s fewer deputies out there providing services,” Neil said. “Initially, day by day, you’re not going to notice a difference, but by the end of the process, there’s going to be a big difference between 930 deputies and 800 deputies. You’re going to see changes in services across the board.”
The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners believed the cuts, which included millions more to other agencies, were necessary to close a $28 million county budget deficit, according to Commissioner Denise Driehaus.
Anderson Township contracts for their service, so they will see no changes in staffing, Neil said. “There’s a good possibility” deputies in Harrison, Whitewater and Crosby Townships will “be repurposed” as the department makes cuts. These unincorporated townships may see response times rise above the 12 to 15 minute range.
“Someone will be out there, because we have an obligation to respond to calls for service … we’ll continue to respond in those areas for service, but who’s providing that service might be a different face," Neil said.
“March 22 will be first week we’re going to lose a significant number … and that might not be the end of it,” Neil said.
The layoffs will help make way for 10 of the 16 deputies in electronic monitoring, who will no longer be funded effective March 31, Neil said. Neil said he has to make room for deputies in electronic monitoring due to bargaining unit contracts.
“I still have six more specialists in electronic monitoring that we have to find positions for,” Neil said. “That’s why I said this might not be the end of layoffs, but it’s been happening in phases.”
Ten deputies will be laid off, based on seniority, on March 21. Probation will take over electronic monitoring on March 31.
Neil said he wanted to announce layoffs so employees would be able to use vacation time.
“I’ve brought them in one by one and made it known of the layoffs … because it's the human thing to do, instead of waiting till the last minute and saying, ‘You’re laid off,’” Neil said. “It's the hardest thing you do as an employer, but I've been put into this situation, it’s not a situation I wanted to be in.”
Driehaus released the following statement on budget cuts:
“The State of Ohio has made numerous cuts to the county over the last seven years totaling $32 million annually. Those cuts forced the Board of County Commissioners to adopt a budget with significant reductions to all county departments. There aren’t any more local funds available to pay for basic services like the Sheriff’s office, or else we would have used them.”