Hamilton Co. Sheriff says "no" to layoffs

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Budget cuts are coming to Hamilton County Government; however, one place that will not lose money will be Simon Leis' Sheriff's Department.

"All I can say is, with these cuts, the Sheriff's Department would be inept," said Sheriff Simon Leis.

Several departments are in trouble as the county faces a $14 million deficit next year. The prosecutor's office is being asked to cut nearly $2 million, which Joe Deters says would eliminate 50 attorneys.

Proposed cuts to the coroner's office could force part of the crime lab to close, but during Wednesday's budget hearing, Coroner Anant Bhati M.D. told Commissioners that the state crime lab lacks the resources to pick up a caseload from a county as large as Hamilton County. It's unclear what would happen to processing of DNA evidence in the county if cuts to the Coroner's office go through as proposed.  In addition, Dr. Bhati said in order to make the cuts Commissioners have asked for, he would have to eliminate Arson Trace evidence testing, which is often how investigators prove that a homicide has happened in a fatal fire.  Firearms testing would be cut, too, which is the processing of evidence from shootings.

The Department of Emergency management says the county's siren system couldn't be maintained and would be out of operation in five years.

The Sheriff's Office was being asked to cut $4.5 million putting at least 100 deputies' jobs on the line. "I guess the best word to describe it is critical to the public safety in Hamilton County," said Leis. "It's as simple as that. If I have to make all these cuts they're proposing, there's no way I can perform my task as Sheriff of this county."

What Sheriff Simon Leis laid out before the commission was almost too much for him to bear, it seemed.

Loss of four organized crime investigators, 29 patrol officers, six records divisions officers who monitor compliance with the sexual offender program, 44 corrections officers, three specialists from the electronic monitoring division and nine court officers - that would leave the courthouse without any security - and last, the only 2 positions in the technology department, responsible for all computer systems and online records in the Sheriff's possession.

"Movement on foreclosure action would come to a standstill, patrol would lack total number of people to effectively enforce law, and protect the citizens," said Leis.

Perhaps the biggest stinger, closure of three floors of one of the jail buildings, which is 224 beds. That would bring the number of inmates released early close to 40,000 next year.

"Those are just cuts that we can't live with," said Commissioner Greg Hartmann. "Reducing the jail; that would affect public safety like we can't even imagine today."

Commissioner Portune told Fox 19, "The result that he laid out for us is startling and we simply cannot allow those kind of reductions in public safety to happen in Hamilton County."

Sheriff Leis said after the budget hearing that he has always been fiscally conservative in running his office, but that if a raise in taxes is necessary to prevent these cuts from happening, then he believes the people of Hamilton County want to be safe and would be willing to pay for it.

Commissioner Portune told us the bottom line is this: either voters would have to be willing to approve a tax hike of some sort, possibly sales tax, or else Commissioners will be forced to cut elsewhere in the county's government.  As for now, though, all seem to be in agreement that the Sheriff's budget is off limits.

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