Hardin, deputies spread thin

November 21, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

Two seconds before, LeeRoy Hardin's eyes were dancing, a grin spread across his face. The Boyle County sheriff had been joking with a woman who asked for change for a dollar.

Then at 2:54 p.m. the radio squawked. The dispatcher received a call about a rolling domestic. Two people were pulled off of Lebanon Road, arguing in their car. Hardin turns on a dime, and in long strides heads to his car outside the courthouse.

He says he is never afraid to answer a call. Domestics, however, get his adrenaline racing.

It's worse now.

Times are tight at the sheriff's department. One deputy is on vacation. The chief deputy is being forced to take time off because the county can't afford to pay overtime. Another is sick. This day from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., Hardin is the only one on duty, except for office deputy Trillie Bottoms. He'll have to answer the domestic call himself.


Ideally, two deputies would respond to domestic calls. There is too much of a chance the argument will escalate. Too much of a chance for violence.

This time, Hardin is lucky. The couple have already sorted it out when he arrives. He drives back to the courthouse, back to the steady line of people coming in to pay their tax bills.

Boyle County finds itself in a fiscal crisis. The surplus is dwindling. The sheriff's department has given the county up to $120,000 a year, its excess fees. Last year it gave back next to nothing. A labor settlement over deputy overtime cost the department $72,000.

This year, for the first time, the department started paying deputies' overtime. Hardin budgeted $23,000. Magistrates have asked Hardin to limit the officers' overtime, perferring that deputies take time off instead.

Six deputies

There are six deputies to cover the county 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Doing it with each employee working only 40 hours a week is impossible.

"I could throw my hands up, but that's not what I was elected to do," Hardin said. "When we ran, we said there would be 24-hour protection, and that's what we're going to do."

Inevitably one is sick, in mandatory training sessions, on vacation, testifying in court or covering for a bailiff. It means that there are lots of times when only one deputy is on duty.

And there's more bad news.

The sheriff's office's bread and butter is tax collection. It recieves commissions from the taxing bodies - the state, the library, the health department, the county - to collect from property owners. To keep the school boards as clients this year, Hardin had to cut a deal, and he agreed to take $30,000 less to collect their share of the property tax.

The Fiscal Court pays for cruisers and maintenance, and the deputies' benefits, which can add up to more than $300,000. In return, the sheriff gives the county all of the money it has left in its bank account at the end of the year. Sometimes it has been as much as $120,000.

Because of the new overtime budget and the school board discount, Hardin expects to have only $30,000 to turn over to the Fiscal Court this year.

It means another deputy could be a long time coming. Until then, Hardin says he'll keep on keeping on.

"When I ran, I said we weren't going to cut services and we a'int. I'm going to stick to my guns," Hardin said.

But, that means some hectic days for Hardin.

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