In many ways, Oklahoma County is a long way from Luther. Most of county government – the jail, the court house and other offices are in downtown Oklahoma City, an easy 30 minute drive for many of us. What does county government do for us and how is it funded? Primarily with property taxes though some offices get funding from additional pots, the offices of the district attorney, public defender, treasurer, three commissioners, assessor, court clerk and the clerk make up our county government. The other entity most visible to us is the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies might stop us to give us a ticket, or they come to our rescue when we are victimized by a crime, or need help in any emergency. They backup Luther Police Department by providing dispatch service and coverage for the area.
Because of a recent budget action, Oklahoma County Acting Sheriff PD Taylor says he has a fight on his hands to keep those patrols in and around Luther. “I am willing to stand and fight and do the right thing for the citizens and my employees.”
His office sent out a news release today following a meeting last week in which county elected officials kept the OSCO budget flat, denying a requested $803,000 increase that was agreed upon by a county budget team. That meeting was covered in Nolan Clay’s article in newsok.com, “Acting Oklahoma County sheriff lashes out after being denied extra funding for jail operations, other expenses.”
Taylor does not have a seat at the actual budget voting table with the other elected county officials such as each of the three commissioners, county clerk, treasurer, court clerk and assessor. The district attorney also gets to vote on the budget but did not vote last week, according to the newsok.com story.
Taylor does not get to vote because he is not elected. He is the acting sheriff and is running to be elected September 12, against democrat Mike Hanson to succeed former Sheriff John Whetsel who retired earlier this year.
Taylor said he was blind-sided by the budget decision and had believed in good faith talk around the county that they would “work together to be on the same page.” Instead, Taylor said they cut his request, ignoring a known increase of about $500,000 in contract costs to cover food and medical care at the jail.
New County Clerk David Hooten was among the four voting against the OSCO increase and provided a statement to The Luther Register.
“I am confident the Sheriff’s Office will have sufficient budgetary resources next fiscal year to maintain their services at present levels. What we should be talking about is a new County jail. My goodness, the County is spending nearly $5,000 a week for throw-away Styrofoam plates to feed prisoners, because there’s no place to wash reusable dishes at the jail.
“The design and construction of a new, modern County jail facility should be our priority, rather than continuing to throw good money after bad on the existing one. Funding ever-increasing operating budgets for the jail, simply prolongs the use of our outmoded jail and ignores the obvious need for a new facility,” said Hooten.
Taylor says however, this refusal to increase his funding gives him concern about paying the bills and maintaining patrols in Luther and other areas of the county. “Some elected officials apparently don’t know what all we do,” he said.
Another no vote at the meeting was from Larry Stein, who served as a vote proxy for the assessor’s office. To newsok.com, he questioned the need for OSCO’s patrol unit.
Stein acknowledged that he questions if patrol officers are needed, saying other law enforcement agencies can respond to calls in the county’s unincorporated areas. “Everyone of those employees in a car is a risk. … They could be injured. There could be a workers’ compensation issue, and we’re exposing ourselves to those risks, risks that the county can’t afford,” Stein said to from newsok.com.
Although Taylor said he will “stand and fight and do the right thing” to keep the patrol division, it’s unclear whether towns such as Luther should take note and address its police budgets, with their own tight budgets. Luther is considering its next budget at a Special Meeting Thursday night, May 25, with no increase to the police budget next year.
OSCO covers duties for small towns such as dispatching for police and fire, and patrols during certain hours of the day. It was the sheriff’s office, not the Luther Police Department, that investigated after the horrific double murder in Luther last fall by Michael Vance. “We were heavily involved. That was a horrendous deal and posed a state-wide danger,” said Taylor.
Luther Police Chief Marcus Thurman said his department understands budget shortfalls. “If the OCSO is forced to reduce its patrol, our department stands ready to assist them. It will be a tough job but our department is up for the challenge. We can do our part to help out in this time of need. Taking call or helping with their extra patrol anyway we can,” said Thurman.
Taylor is having a citizen’s meeting in the Deer Creek area Thursday at 6 pm to gauge concerns. He offered to have another meeting in Luther next week if there is interest and the details can be worked out.
“If potentially losing law enforcement presence in the unincorporated area concerns you, and losing school resource officers out of your children’s school concerns you, then I would encourage members of the community to contact these four elected officials and let them know where you stand on these important issues,” said Taylor.
The no votes for the OSCO budget increase were from Hooten, Court Clerk Rick Warren, Assessor Leonard Sullivan via Stein, and Commissioner Brian Maughan who is running for Oklahoma City Mayor. That vote also gave $353,389 more from the general fund to the court clerk, $250,000 more to the county clerk and $99,987 more to Maughan’s office (from newsok.com). The Luther Register has requested a copy of the budget.
The yes votes were from Treasurer Butch Freeman and Commissioners Willa Johnson (who represents the Luther area) and Ray Vaughn.
The new county budget takes effect July 1.