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County sheriff, fair board could cut ties

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At the very least, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office will have a significantly reduced presence this year at the Franklin County Fair.

Sheriff Zach Scott said attendance figures do not justify the personnel cost the sheriff’s office previously had dedicated to the county fair.

Chief Deputy Jim Gilbert said the personnel cost was about $46,000 last year.

If fair organizers opt to contract with another law-enforcement agency for security, fairgoers might not see any deputies at this year’s fair, slated from July 12-19 at the fairgrounds in Hilliard.

Tim Shade, manager of the Franklin County Fair and secretary of the Franklin County Agricultural Society, said he learned of Scott’s decision at the March 17 meeting of the Brown Township trustees.

Shade said visiting deputies privately told him the sheriff’s office no longer would participate in safety-services day at the fair, staff a tent at the fairgrounds or assign sworn deputies to provide security.

“They dropped a bomb on me,” Shade said.

He said the news was the latest in a series of road bumps, including changes in fair board membership and a harsh winter that has caused infrastructure damage at the fairgrounds.

“Every corner we’ve turned is another stumbling block but the bottom line in this: It won’t stop us (from having the fair),” Shade said.

The fair board budgets about $8,000 for security, which is paid to the county for the 24-hour presence of sheriff’s deputies during the eight-day fair, Shade said.

“We are very surprised and saddened the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office isn’t coming,” Shade said. “It’s a loss to the fair as they provided a valuable service.”

Christy Clark, chairwoman of the promotions and special events committee of the Franklin County Agricultural Society, said the search is on for both an agency to sponsor safety-services day and to provide security.

Scott said the lack of marketing and promotion and declining attendance were factors in his decision to step back from the fair.

Lack of personnel and sufficient funding also were cited as factors, according to Shade.

Responding to the reported frustration of fair officials, Scott said, “I’m mad attendance is down. The numbers have gone down year after year and I could not justify the tax dollars being spent (to maintain our past levels of participation).”

Shade said attendance figures have fluctuated from 2005 to 2013, but the average attendance has been steady.

Although Scott said deputies won’t take part in safety-services day at the fair, the sheriff’s office is willing to continue providing special-duty deputies for security and emergency services.

In a April 2 letter from Scott to Norwich Township Trustee Larry Earman, Scott said the sheriff's office “cannot justify spending taxpayer dollars on manpower to work the sheriff’s office tent.”

“If attendance grows, I will gladly have a tent at the fair in upcoming years,” Scott wrote.

Scott’s letter 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 April 7 that the special-duty deputies are members of the Fraternal Order of Deputies Association, which is 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 services.

“This issue has gone back and forth (with the fair board) but Sheriff Scott is accountable for where we deploy our deputies (and) the attendance at the county fair no longer justifies (our commitment of current personnel),” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said April 7 he spoke with Shade and explained the position of the sheriff’s office and the offer to provide special deputies, but Shade reiterated the fair board wanted full-time deputies.

“We attempted to work something out,” Gilbert said.

The cost of providing two deputies during the fair’s hours of operation and a one deputy on an overnight shift would be about $24,000, Gilbert said.

Last year, eight deputies and two supervisors of the community relations unit worked the fair. The cost to provide security and community support was about $46,000; the fair board contributed $8,000 toward that amount, Gilbert said.

The sheriff’s office receives additional funding through the Franklin County Commissioner’s Office for certain events, but the county fair will not be considered as such an event this year, Gilbert said.

Shade told ThisWeek the fair board wanted full-time deputies or, if that did not work, full-time officers from another agency.

In the past, Shade said, the fair used a combination of sworn deputies and special-duty deputies.

The $8,000 security budget covered both donations to the fraternal association and compensation for the sworn deputies, Shade said.

As a result of the sheriff’s office dropping out, Shade said, more than once agency could work at this year’s fair.

“We’ve been talking with other agencies,” Shade said. “You might see officers from one department on one day and those from another department on another day.”

Shade said he would not commit to using the special-duty deputies until a contract was finalized with another agency for the regular police officers.

Shade said he has asked Hilliard police about providing full-time officers, but would not disclose the other agencies the fair board is considering.

Shade also said he called the Columbus Division of Police to gauge its interest in safety-services day and department officials expressed interest in sponsoring the event.

The Norwich Township trustees voiced their displeasure April 1 to three deputies who were at the trustees meeting representing the community-relations bureau of the sheriff’s office.

Earman, also a fair board member, said he was disappointed the sheriff’s office would no longer maintain past staffing.

“I’m shocked and dismayed,” Earman said. “The sheriff’s office has been a part of the fair as long as I can remember. I think it being a part of the fair is a positive event. It’s only for eight days, (so) it doesn’t make sense to me.”

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