By Amanda Amsel
Prairie Township officials and residents are concerned about coverage in the township amid reports of staffing issues within the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department.
At a recent trustees meeting, residents expressed their frustration with deputies not actively patrolling the township.
“Currently, we pay the sheriff’s $66,296 a month,” Hatmaker said. “That provides us with 35 shifts a week, solely devoted to Prairie Township.”
Sheriff’s deputies said they don’t have enough manpower to patrol the township in the areas residents have requested. This concerns township officials because three years ago they increased the amount of the shifts with the sheriff’s office.
“Originally the sheriff was only doing 21 shifts in the township, however we increased that number to ensure adequate coverage,” Hatmaker said. “The trustees are concerned when our liaison says in meetings that they don’t have enough staff to do certain things when we almost doubled our shifts with them just a few years ago.”
In 2011, the township paid the sheriff’s office about $318,000 a year. Today the amount they are paying them has more than doubled.
Currently the township has one car patrolling the township 24 hours a day seven days a week and a second car patrolling the township 16 hours a day seven days a week. Typically one deputy rides in each of these cars unless they are training a new officer.
At the township meetings, the sheriff liaison has stated that the calls they must respond to in the area have kept them from patrolling the township. However, Hatmaker said the township disputes the number of calls they report they are responding to.
Hatmaker argues that the numbers they are presenting are for all the deputies who respond to calls in the township, not just for the officers assigned to Prairie Township.
“Also, all the numbers they provide are not for criminal matters,” he said. “If they check on an elderly person or a business, take someone downtown or do other routine things they count those on this report. I think we need more information of where all these numbers are coming from.”
Despite these concerns, township officials do not believe the sheriff’s office is trying to pull a fast one on them. They say they are just concerned as to why residents are complaining about a lack of police coverage and why their liaison is saying they don’t have enough manpower.
Earlier in the year, the township tried to bring a sheriff substation to the township. The township planned to buy a 8,400 square foot building on North Murray Hill Road for $690,000 and remodel it for the sheriff’s department, however after the township was already in contract on the building the deal fell apart.
“After we entered into this contract we learned that the sheriff’s office was going to have to bid out this project,” Hatmaker said. “However, the contract the township entered was contingent on an agreement with the sheriff’s office, so we are not on the hook for the building.”
The original contract between the sheriff’s office and the township said the sheriff’s office would stay at the building for 20 years and then if they walked away the township would own the building. The sheriff also was going to pay the township $109,000 a year to lease the building. However, the contract that went out to bid only stated the sheriff’s office would stay at the building for five years.
“The township couldn’t financially buy and rehab a building for only a five-year commitment,” Hatmaker said.
Hatmaker said no one bid on the project and now the township is looking at coming up with a new agreement with the sheriff’s office for a substation next spring.
“A substation is very important to the township and still a top priority,” he said. “Toward the end of the year, we are looking at regrouping with the sheriff’s office and coming up with another option.”