Osceola County sets safety budget

SIBLEY, Iowa -- After listening to nearly an hour's worth of public testimony, the Osceola County Public Safety Commission set its 2007-2008 law enforcement budget at $878,500 -- $40,000 less than what was requested by the county's sheriff.

SIBLEY, Iowa -- After listening to nearly an hour's worth of public testimony, the Osceola County Public Safety Commission set its 2007-2008 law enforcement budget at $878,500 -- $40,000 less than what was requested by the county's sheriff.

In a standing-room-only public hearing Wednesday evening, commissioners were criticized for forcing deputies to drive high-mileage squad cars and creating low morale in the department by using outdated equipment and paying low wages.

In a recent incident, Sheriff Doug Weber said a deputy was involved in a high-speed chase -- traveling speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour -- with the highest mileage car in the fleet. The 2001 Crown Victoria boasts more than 170,000 miles, and the department spent $1,000 this week alone on repairs to the vehicle.

"We don't defend public safety rights with a skateboard," said Weber. "The No. 1 reason officers get killed on duty is motor vehicle crashes."

With cuts made to reach the $878,500 budget, commissioners opted to wait on trading in the car for another year. That decision caused great concern among several people at the hearing.


"If you delay this one and a half years, you are extending (the replacement of) other cars just as far out," said Larry Jeddeloh. He said the remaining cars in the fleet have anywhere from 10,000 to 120,000 miles on them.

"Very seldom you see people driving a 200,000-mile car, and you're expecting officers to drive that," said Jeddeloh. "What's going to happen is the cars are going to turn into money pits. We're asking a lot of these cars -- especially for emergency vehicles."

The squad cars average about 3,000 miles per month, and Jeddeloh said that figure can basically be doubled to include idling time.

Karen Luinstra, a resident of Harris, also voiced concern about the high-mileage vehicles and said the deputies don't have a choice in the matter. She also asked the commission if other budgets were scrutinized as much as the law enforcement budget.

"When you're talking public safety, is cutting $40,000 worth that?" she asked. "Personally, I feel we could benefit from another officer, if not two. Where do you put the line on public safety? I think somewhere we could come up with the money."

Commissioners, however, disagreed.

Jerry Johnson, chair of the commission and representative from the City of Sibley, said they held all other city budgets with the exception of law enforcement, while Darwin Beltman, a county supervisor, said they toed the line with every department's budget.

"We have held the line," Beltman said. Property valuations in Osceola County are used to determine the amount of tax revenue available to fund county services such as public safety. "The county and (the City of Sibley) are maxed up to what they can assess."


Beltman, part of a committee of Sibley leaders and county officials created to look at the law enforcement budget, added, "(We) performed a colonoscopy, if you will, on this budget and couldn't find anything wrong with it."

While they may not have found anything wrong with the budget, they also couldn't find any other way to fund it.

"We need to take care of everyone in this county without disrupting any other function," said Dick Mataloni, representing the City of Sibley. "We stretched (the budget) to get as much as we could."

"This is based on property tax, not income tax," added Commissioner Gary Benz, representing the City of Melvin. "We look like we don't care anything about this department. That is so not true. If we had higher valuations, we'd give Doug as much money as he needed."

Benz said perhaps an auxiliary needed to be created to take in donations, so the department could be fully funded.

Kevin Wolfswinkel, president of the Osceola County Taxpayers Association, voiced concern with the existing funding formula.

"Why should the residents of Allendorf or May City continue to pay twice as much for law enforcement as the residents of Sibley or Ocheyedan?" Wolfswinkel read from a prepared statement. He urged commissioners to make some tough decisions, keep the process open, control expenses and "recognize that the buck stops with this board."

Dan DeKoter, who has practiced law in Sibley for 27 years, said he has witnessed some sad changes in law enforcement in that time.


"You had a law enforcement department at that time that was second to none," he said. "I saw a real sense of pride in the people who served in law enforcement. They were proud of the fact they had good employees, good equipment and a clean county."

DeKoter said public opinion of the department has changed to one of disrespect.

"They think Doug goes out each day looking to where he can spend money, and that's a bunch of BS, pardon my language," he said. "I think it's time to maybe start asking ourselves, 'Are we proud of what we have? Are we proud to have officers driving 200,000 miles on a car?'"

DeKoter said times are prosperous for most residents of Osceola County, and perhaps some of that prosperity should be put into funding public safety. Just before the close of the public hearing, DeKoter said commissioners needed to set some priorities.

"The message is the people care about law enforcement," he added.

When the public hearing closed, however, commissioners unanimously approved the $878,500 budget on a roll call vote. Absent from the hearing and vote was Arlyn Pedley, commissioner representing the City of Ocheyedan.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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