MANSFIELD — The impact of inflation at a 40-year national high began to play out Tuesday as Richland County commissioners launched 2023 budget hearings.

Three departments made presentations, including the sheriff’s office, which requested nearly $18.8 million to fund law enforcement, 911 operations and the county jail next year.

The request is about 20 percent more than Sheriff Steve Sheldon’s department was appropriated in 2022, though the department also budgeted for increased revenues and currently has $450,000 earmarked for six new vehicles.

In recent years, commissioners have funded new RCSO vehicles from their capital expense funds or money from the the county’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act.

“By the time you factor the increases in revenue and the vehicles, we’re looking at a (department) increase of less than 10 percent,” said Capt. Jim Sweat, the department’s support bureau commander.

RCSO 2023 budget letter

Inflation rates across the United States have been running more than 8 percent year-over-year, according to federal officials.

Commissioner Tony Vero cited the increased costs of goods and services, including the price of fuel and vehicles, for helping to drive the proposed budget increase.

Sweat said the price of an equipped law enforcement cruiser has jumped to $75,000, up from $50,000.

“In 2020, the actual cost of fuel in the sheriff’s department was $89,000,” Vero said. “The request for fuel in (the) 2023 (budget) is $200,000.

“Now I am not going to speculate what changed between 2020 and 2021. But if you want to talk about inflation, you can look at gasoline and the cost of vehicles and food and there you go,” Vero said.

Capt. Chris Blunk, the administrator for the county jail, said food prices for inmates has gone up 9 percent in the last two years.

The breakdown of the RCSO budget request was $7.6 million for law enforcement, $9.6 million for the jail and $1.56 million for the 911 center.

According to Sheldon, the law enforcement budget includes replacing expiring body armor issued to personnel; body cameras; equipment and supplies for two additional K-9 teams; an off-road vehicle and a trailer for off-road incident responses.

The sheriff said the jail budget is aimed at keeping the department’s Bureau of Adult Detention in its current “compliant jail” status. One item in the budget is $225,000 for the construction of a fence around the jail perimeter.

“Our requests pertain mostly to retention and hiring as staffing is a critical need in the jail,” Sheldon said.

The 911 budget request calls for the promotion of one supervisor on each shift with the currently authorized staffing of 16 dispatchers.

The meetings Tuesday were the start of the budgeting process for commissioners, who also heard requests Tuesday from the county park district and the Community Alternative Center.

The three-member panel will continue to meet with department heads and elected officials in the next several weeks. A final budget for 2023 is expected by the end of the year.

Vero said department requests are just that — requests. The county general fund budget in 2023 was $39.3 million.

“The sheriff has always worked with us (on the budget),” Vero said. “They put in a very reasonable request, but they realize these are all requests, just as any other.

“They just have a jail, law enforcement and 911. So rightfully so, they’re going to have by sheer of numbers and their line of work, they’re going to have a significant request.

“But we always get to a number where I think both sides are pretty pleased. I don’t know, maybe, maybe not, but we understand this is a request and so we’ll go from there,” he said.

Jason Larson, executive director the county park district, submitted a 2023 budget request of $301,131, about $34,000 more than 2022. The largest increases were due to employee salaries and health insurance.

Jennifer Moore, who now leads the CAC, submitted an expense plan of $1.62 million for next year, down from $1.64 million in 2022. She also forecasted a rise in revenues in 2023, projecting the center will finish in the black next year.

Chuck Hahn, Cleveland Financial Group, invests in this independent reporting through a Newsroom Partnership. Learn more about Newsroom Partnerships.

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