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Burns pleased with Jefferson County budget

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Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns said Tuesday he’s pleased with the proposed budget for his department.

“I don’t have any issues with the budget,” Sheriff Burns said. “All in all, I think it looks pretty good.”

The county administration recommended giving Sheriff Burns $375,000 more than he had this year for the cost of housing excess inmates at other jails in the state. Jefferson County’s jail doesn’t have enough beds for the number of inmates it is taking in. The county is planning to spend $900,000 on “outboarding” of inmates in 2013, up from $525,000 it planned for 2012. The final cost is likely to be much higher for this year. In 2011, the county actually ended up spending $925,755 to house inmates at other jails.

“I think they finally recognized the fact that I do have an overcrowded jail,” Sheriff Burns said.

The county Board of Legislators met Tuesday night for a budget workshop session, but because of a scheduling conflict, Sheriff Burns did not attend. Legislators mostly didn’t discuss his budget.

Sheriff Burns didn’t get everything that he requested. He asked for another sergeant and two more deputies, which he did not receive in the initial proposal. But the county didn’t cut deputies from his staff.

The county also cut several thousand dollars for undercover drug task-force officers to buy drugs in sting operations. Legislator Jennie Adsit, R-Watertown, asked why the drug task force was reduced.

Robert F. Hagemann III, county administrator, said the administration believed Sheriff Burns had another source of funding for the program.

Tuesday represented the last budget workshop before a Finance and Rules Committee meeting Nov. 7, when legislators are likely to tweak the budget but not overhaul it. The $245 million spending proposal increases the property tax levy, or the amount to be raised from taxes, by 4 percent. The county will hold a public hearing on Nov. 13, and the Board of Legislators is likely to vote on it later that day.

In other law enforcement matters, legislators appeared receptive to a plan that would arm some of the county’s 30 probation officers.

Probation Director Edward E. Brown quoted his father to support the proposal.

“It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it,” Mr. Brown told legislators.

The county is setting aside $10,450 to buy the 10 guns and related equipment. Insurance costs will also rise for the officers by $300 to $400 each a year, Mr. Brown said. An informal poll indicated 22 would be interested in carrying weapons when checking on convicted criminals to make sure they’re obeying the law.

Right now, the department has five guns for training, Mr. Brown said. But officers are not allowed to use them in the field. The Probation Department first needs permission from the Board of Legislators to arm its officers. Thirty-one of the state’s counties, of 57 outside the city of New York, arm their probation officers, Mr. Brown said.

The officers are often alone when they knock on the criminals’ doors, which can happen as frequently as four times a month, he said.

Probation officers in Jefferson County can carry pepper spray now. In 15 years, they’ve only needed to use it once, Mr. Brown said.

The proposal appeared to win many legislators’ support.

The nature of crime in Jefferson County has changed significantly, Mr. Brown said, with more serious offenders.

Legislator Robert J. Thomas, R-Glen Park, told fellow legislators about when he was an unarmed police officer and a man came at him with a pitchfork.

Soon after, everyone on the force carried guns, he said.

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