MCDOWELL COUNTY, W.Va. — “We’re looking at a bad situation,” reported McDowell County Sheriff Martin West with layoffs for six of his department’s deputies due to budget cuts still scheduled to take effect on Dec. 31.
Next Tuesday, members of the McDowell County Commission meet to decide what, if any, steps will be taken to allocate supplemental funding to the McDowell County Sheriff’s Department for staffing.
Without it, deputy numbers within the county of 18,000 will fall to seven total, completely eliminating the evening shift and largely keeping deputies off the roads, according to West.
“It’s just like wiping us out totally,” he said. “You just can’t do away with that and have the same effect on the county, losing six trained officers that are academy-trained and certified.”
Some of those deputies have as much as ten years of experience.
Two deputies were already laid off in July.
By law, sheriff’s deputies are required to serve as court bailiffs, collect taxes and provide transports for juvenile offenders and those with mental health petitions.
“We’re not going to be able to respond to calls because we’re mandated to be in court and bailiff and doing all these other things,” he said.
State Police could add one or two troopers to the Welch detachment to try to cover the potential deputy losses, but West said those additions were only requests at this point.
Deputies with the McDowell County Sheriff’s Department responded to 1,600 emergency calls during a six month period this year.
It’ll take an influx of cash to keep the McDowell County Sheriff’s Department fully funded beyond March 2017.
During a packed Wednesday meeting, members of the McDowell County Commission discussed possibly diverting coal operator royalty money designated for the McDowell County Ambulance Authority to the sheriff’s department.
“I told them I didn’t come as an adversary, I come humble asking for help, assistance to save six deputies’ jobs,” West said of the meeting on Thursday.
According to West, a member of the McDowell County Commission later told one of his deputies not to count on such funding being an option
“You get encouraged and you get discouraged in the same space and time almost,” West said.
Budget cuts in all county offices began earlier this year when McDowell County was facing a $600,000 shortfall.
West argued that, because of due consideration, jobs within the McDowell County Sheriff’s Department cannot be cut the same way as those in other departments.
The McDowell County Commission meets at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 20.
“I was elected to do the job,” said West who was recently re-elected. “I’m working to making the county better and safer and trying to save these jobs.”