Grove City Record

Deputies to maintain county fair presence

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Full-time deputies from the Franklin County Sheriff's Office will continue to provide community support and security at the county fair this year.

The sheriff's office made the announcement last week after a meeting with fair board leaders.

"We will be providing a combination of regular and special-duty officers this year (and) will also have a tent," Chief Deputy Jim Gilbert said. "We will be scaling back, but we will be at the fair. ... We will participate in Safety-Services Day and serve as its primary protectors.

"All the staffing decisions will be based on projected attendance."

This year's fair is scheduled July 12-19 at the fairgrounds in Hilliard.

Earlier this month, Sheriff Zach Scott announced the sheriff's office would withdraw from the county fair because dwindling attendance did not justify the costs to provide security and to staff a tent. The tent is used to display cruisers, historical photographs, descriptions of the sheriff's office's various units and educational and promotional materials.

Gilbert said personnel costs during last year's eight-day fair were about $46,000.

Scott also said the sheriff's office would be willing to offer "special deputies at no cost to the Franklin County Fair Board" to keep costs to the fair board at a minimum.

Gilbert said the special-duty deputies are members of the Fraternal Order of Deputies Association, a nonprofit organization comprising auxiliary deputies. The special-duty deputies are employed full time in other occupations but volunteer to support the sworn deputies, performing traffic control and other law-enforcement services.

The sheriff's office's decision to maintain a stronger presence at the fair resulted from an April 16 meeting among Gilbert, Emily Gabriel, president of the Franklin County Agricultural Society, and David Hickman, vice president of the agricultural society. The society oversees the county fair.

Norwich Township Trustee Larry Earman said he suggested the meeting after speaking with Gilbert, who had called Earman after learning of the trustee's concern about the sheriff's office's decision.

Gilbert said the meeting was productive and both he and fair board leaders reached new understandings that had not been previously communicated.

"(The fair board) heard our concerns (about our staffing levels relative to fair attendance) and told me they were not discouraged that we offered to provide special deputies," Gilbert said.

Gabriel and Hickman did not respond to ThisWeek's requests for comment.

Previously, agricultural society secretary Tim Shade told ThisWeek the fair board wanted regular deputies at the fair. In the past, Shade said, the fair used a combination of sworn deputies and special-duty deputies.

Gilbert said in previous discussions Shade also indicated a preference for regular deputies over special-duty deputies.

If only special-duty deputies were to be provided, Shade told ThisWeek, he would solicit other law-enforcement agencies to provide security at the fair. He said earlier this week the fair board told him to hold off calling other agencies and wait for further direction.

Gilbert said April 17 that he expected no other department would have agreed to provide security at the fair because of liability issues. The fairgrounds are owned by the county and any agencies other than the sheriff's office and the Hilliard Division of Police would be out of their jurisdictions.

Staffing levels and the use of regular deputies or special-duty deputies will be determined on a daily basis throughout the week, based on attendance and anticipated events, Gilbert said.

"Saturdays and Sundays are traditionally the best-attended days," Gilbert said.

He said it is likely staffing will remain at previous season's levels on Saturday, July 12, and Sunday, July 13.

"We will probably scale back during the week," he said.

Staffing levels likely will increase the final two days of the fair, Friday, July 18, and Saturday, July 19, which includes the demolition derby that historically closes the fair, Gilbert said.

The fair board budgets about $8,000 for security and support from the sheriff's office, according to Shade.

The sheriff's office uses its budget to cover the remainder of the cost to staff and support the eight-day county fair, Gilbert said.

He said the sheriff's office will continue to use its own operating budget to staff the fair and expects to spend "about half" of what it had previous years.

Gilbert said the sheriff's office "still is working out logistics of staffing and costs."

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