Questions Raised over Sheriff’s Budget and Salaries

Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood reads a prepared statement concerning his office’s budget. Photo by Carrie Rose.

Questions Raised over Sheriff’s Budget and Salaries

(Editor’s Note: When this story originally ran, there was a typing error reporting Major Scott Trussell’s salary to be higher than it really is. The error has been corrected in the text. The Meigs Independent Press apologizes for the error. Additionally, Sheriff Wood’s pay was unintentionally left out of the article and has since been added in.)

POMEROY, Ohio – Questions have been raised over the budget, salaries and personnel in various offices in Meigs County. The Meigs Independent Press has spent the past several weeks gather information through formal Freedom of Information Act requests to be able to get past rhetoric to the heart of those questions.

The Meigs County Sheriff’s Office has been placed under a quarterly budget following a 30 day notice from the Meigs County Commissioners. While the resolution to pass the quarterly budget was approved at the Feb. 20, 2020 regular scheduled meeting of the Meigs County Commissioners, the Meigs Independent Press did not receive a copy of the resolution until the evening of Feb. 26. The resolution, however, has been one step in the course of many coming to what has become a rather heated political atmosphere in Meigs County ahead of the March 17 primary.

Meigs County Commissioner Randy Smith has been calling out expenditures at the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office for months. In some meetings, he has protested voting for appropriations and has called for a reduction in the staff of the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office. He called out by name in a Commissioners’ meeting for Maj. Scott Trussell and Administrative Assistant Cheyenne Martin to have their jobs terminated based on their salaries and the expense to the Sheriff’s budget and the county. Through the meetings and on social media, Smith has been vocal about his concerns with the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office and maintains this is about county fiscal accountability.

“It is unfortunate that we have had to take this historic step to protect the dollars of our hard working citizens and protect the hard working deputies that protect us. The frivolous spending, the excess pay and benefits of administrative staff, and the lack of monitoring of the budget of the sheriff and his administration has landed us here. It’s equally unfortunate that it has now become politicized by that will not stop or slow our responsibility to the tax payers,” said Smith in a statement to the Meigs Independent Press. 

All three Meigs County Commissioners, Tim Ihle, Jimmy Will and Randy Smith agree that placing the Sheriff’s Office on the quarterly budget is a positive for the county as they will be able to see what is going on more regularly than an annual budget. Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood has also agreed with this move and believes it is a positive and an opportunity for better communication between the offices. All parties involved have repeatedly stated that the Sheriff’s Office budget is a “moving target” each year with certain expenses such as housing of prisoners. What Sheriff Wood did not expect was the portion of the resolution alluding to Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs). The resolution passed unanimously by all three commissioners during the Feb. 20 meeting includes a paragraph stating, “WHEREAS, the Meigs County Commissioners have discovered many line items that exceeded the approbation, further the commissioners were made aware of MOUs that have created excess spending that have been deemed unlawful by legal opinion.” 

The previously referenced “legal opinion” was requested via a formal FOIA request from the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office. As of publishing, it had not been received. According Sheriff Wood, that portion of the resolution was a complete surprise to him. As of this publishing, Sheriff Wood as also not received a copy of the stated legal opinion. 

Questions on Pay

Due to the questions raised about salaries, the Meigs Independent Press sent a formal FOIA request to the Meigs County Auditor’s Office requesting the pay for every county employee for 2018, 2019 and 2020. The information which follows is from those records. This what those records revealed.

In 2018,  Cheyenne Martin was a full time employee and paid $16 an hour for a total of $34,679.74 which includes $1,001.15 of overtime. At the same time another position of clerk at the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office who has since left the office was a full time employee making $15.25 an hour or a total of $30,775.06. In 2019, that employee left towards the beginning of the year with only a total of $5,227.70 being paid out. Sheriff Wood decided to not hire someone else in the position, but combine duties for Martin. She was given a pay raise. Initially, that pay was listed as $24.50, however, Martin was never paid at that rate. Her pay was changed to $21.50 an hour. Sheriff Wood said the pay increase was an error on his part, which he said he went to heads of other departments and apologized for. 

Between the two positions at the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office Martin and the clerk position, the combined cost was $65,454.80 in 2018. By 2019, just for Martin, the cost was $43,681.80 which even with the pay raise was still a reduction in the budget of $21,773. Martin did not receive a year end bonus. 

At the same time, for comparison, the Meigs County Commissioners Clerk and Grants Administrator was paid $19 an hour in 2018 for a total of $41,679.54 which includes overtime in the amount of $1,739.64. Also included in her pay is $500 annual Christmas bonus that most county employees received as well (excluding the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office). In 2019, she received $40,120 without the overtime pay and received the $500 bonus as well. The position was combined with the Clerk for the Commissioners with the Grants Administrator similar to that of Martin’s position combining.

Throughout the county at various levels approximately 56 county employees received a $500 year end “Christmas bonus” instead of a pay raise. The bonuses cost a total of $28,000 for 2019. 

The average rate of pay for comparable positions to Martin and the Commissioner’s Clerk for 2019 of full time county employees was $15.46 an hour. The lowest pay was $10.88 an hour and the highest was $21.70.

The average rate of pay for comparable positions so far for 2020 is $17.03. The lowest pay is $13 and the highest is $24.63.

Also questioned has been Scott Trussell’s salary. Trussell serves as a major with the Sheriff’s Office and jail administrator at the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office Jail. Trussell also had a combination of duties when another employee left and he was given a raise along with additional duties. In 2018, per two week pay period, Trussell made $2,090.40 for a total salary paid of $51,222.40. In 2019, Trussell made $2,274.40 per two week pay period, for a total paid of $59,134.40. So far for 2020, Trussell has been paid $2,274.40 per two week pay period.

Part time Meigs County deputies make: 2018, from $14.38 up to $15.85 an hour; 2019, $14.38 to $15.85 an hour; 2020, $15.85 an hour. Full time deputies make: 2018, from $13.18 an hour up to $19.89; 2019, $14.38 an hour up to $19.89; 2020, $15.85 up to $19.89 an hour. Sergeants make per hour: 2018, $20.35 up to $24.23; 2019, $20.35 up to $24.31; 2020, $20.86 up to $24.31.

Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood is one of the officials whose salary is set by the state. His pay in 2018 made 2,666.42 bi-weekly and a year end pay of $69,326.92. For 2019 Wood’s bi-weekly pay was $2,783.28 and yearly for a total of $72,367.88. In 2020, Sheriff Wood’s bi-weekly pay is $2,783.38.

Most county officials have their salary set by the state which can include it being based on population. Some positions including the commissioners have to wait until the beginning of a new term to receive a pay increase. In 2018, Meigs County Commissioners were paid: Mike Bartrum, $1,883.62 bi-weekly, $48,974.12 year end; Tim Ihle, $1,572.61 bi-weekly, $40,887.86 year end; Randy Smith, $1,883.63 bi-weekly, $48,974.12 year end. For 2019 the commissioners were paid: Mike Bartrum, $1,883.62 bi-weekly, $7,916.62 year end; Tim Ihle, $1,977.81 bi-weekly, $51,523.06 year end; Randy Smith, $1,883.62 bi-weekly, $49,074.12 year end; Jimmy Will, $2,052.97 bi-weekly, $43,212.37 year end. So far in 2020, Meigs County Commissioners are making bi-weekly: Tim Ihle, $2,076.60; Randy Smith, $1,883.62; Jimmy Will, $2,076.69.

Additionally, via a FOIA request, the Meigs Independent Press has acquired records for reimbursements to the Meigs County Commissioners. According to the records provided by the Meigs County Auditor’s Office, from Jan. 1, 2019 until Feb. 2, 2020 various expenses have been turned in for reimbursement. From Meigs County Commissioner Tim Ihle, has nothing listed for being reimbursed for. From Meigs County Commissioner Jimmy Will, a meal reimbursement is listed for $23.77. For Meigs County Commissioner Randy Smith, reimbursements listed are: March 12, 2019 – Mileage/Cell phone, $758; April 15, 2019 – March-April Cell/Mileage, $405; June 18, 2019 – Cell/Mileage/Meal, $625.05; August 14, 2019  – July/Aug Cell/Mileage $629.20; Oct. 15, 2019 – Sept-Oct Cell/Meal/Mileage, $941.58; Nov. 25, 2019 – Oct/Nov Mileage/Cell, $678.49; Dec. 16, 2019 – Nov/Dec Cell/Mileage, $281.91.

Response from Meigs County Sheriff

Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood held a press conference on Feb. 26, 2020 releasing the following statement concerning the issues with the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office Budget:

This sheriff’s office is like any business where employees’ wages and benefits comprise the largest line items. Most businesses hire according to demand when it comes to staffing; the uniqueness of the sheriff’s office is that crime is the main indicator. Crime is the demand for more deputies and resources, this reflects the root cause of our crisis. Over the years that I have been Sheriff, the Gallia-Meigs drug task force has taken $9.3 million dollars’ worth of drugs off our streets. They served 536 indictments based on 1,781 counts, conducted 297 search warrants, ½ Million dollars, and 205 illegal firearms from drug dealers. These things would not have happened without the collaboration of four agencies, The Meigs County Sheriff’s Office, Gallia County Sheriff’s Office, Gallipolis City Police Department, and the Middleport Police Department, and for that we are grateful. Again, reacting to crime, per our sworn oath, is not only our duty, but it warrants action. We can’t say that this is the first time in history the budget has been in crisis mode for the Sheriff’s Office, but I can say the amount of crime we manage, and the costs associated with that management, are not predictable. The budget crisis isn’t any more dire now than it has been in the year’s past; managing crime has always been an expensive business.

Many sheriff offices across Ohio deal with budget issues with the amount of crime never being predictable. Traditionally, the Sheriff’s Office is the largest ticket item in the general budget, and it is common for Sheriff Offices in Ohio to occupy about 25% of the county general fund. We pledge to you Meigs County, that we will continue to make arrests in order this fight against the crime and the drug activity in this county. All arrests cost the taxpayers money; whether we are housing the inmates locally, or when we are transporting them to outside facilities. Transporting inmates is a necessity for our county because we do not have a jail large enough to house the number of inmates, we have in custody daily, so yes, it is a costly budget item. We constantly work to stay within budget by having weekly meetings, however, the growing crime rate and increasing costs associated the management of inmates is the direct result of our continued budget issues.  Because we cannot house all the incarcerated inmates arrested in our facility, we are forced to house these inmates outside our county. This results in our deputies spending valuable man hours transporting inmates, hours that they are unable to spend in the county patrolling and responding to your calls. It is our duty to bring inmates to and from court, often for multiple trips over several months, until a case is resolved; consequently, this poses a strain on our budget. We pay RETAIL cost when we house inmates outside of our own jail. 

I have been advised of social media posts that are not only inaccurate, but one-sided. Please know that social media is not always the best resource for factual information. The sheriff’s office will continue to observe our social media policy, and we therefore don’t debate official business via targeted social media posts. The accusations mentioned have been brought to our attorney’s attention to review the various false statements made and to determine the most appropriate action needed. I, Sheriff Keith Wood, want to let you know that we are prepared and ready to answer all questions concerning this office and our business procedures… and we always have been. 

Many youth programs, which we should be proud of, have been added since I was elected to be your Sheriff. The School Resource Officer program was a collaborative effort through the efforts and determination of Eastern, Meigs, and Southern Local School District’s funding and with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office Drug Use Prevention Grant. With these efforts, we were able to secure a school resource officer in each school district. The protection of our children and staff at these facilities should be a priority county wide.  Since elected, it has been a goal to constructively target the youth of our county, through positive interaction and association with our deputies. To effect this, I have partnered with numerous organizations throughout my time as Sheriff to incorporate many events, which include Hooked on Fishing Not on Drugs, Drug Prevention Day at the Meigs County Fair, ID Safe funding, and our annual Shop with a Cop program Also, working with our county school districts, we have added a School Safety Council. This council is designed to ensure all schools can share safety plans and implement the best possible program for the children in our community. In 2019, grant money collected by two school districts was awarded to the Sheriff’s Office which allowed two School Resource Officers to participate in DARE School and provided safety training.

My 43 years of experience has taught me many things by working in the field myself as an officer. A priority that I have felt from day one when becoming your sheriff was to get better equipment, pay, training, and encourage community policing in our county for the citizens of this county. The seizure of drug money is dedicated to two things, youth programs and the betterment of the officers to do their jobs. Additionally, partnering with area agencies and our local schools has allowed us to pool resources, secure grants, and build stronger programs for this community that I call Home. The Gallia-Meigs Task Force has proven success and phenomenal numbers. We recently welcomed the Ohio State Patrol into this Task Force. This will allow for greater law enforcement to Gallia and Meigs County, to combat this drug crisis with interdiction and apprehension. 

We pledge to you, Meigs County, that we will continue to make arrests in order to keep up the fight. If the commissioners believe effecting a quarterly spending plan allows for better monitoring of these costs, then we will work with them in any way necessary, however, quarterly monitoring does not change the management of the crime that we face, and the costs associated. The history of our budget shows that we have consistently exceeded the budget, each year. Again, reacting to crime per our sworn oath, is the crisis at hand. Law enforcement is an expensive business, yet vital to keeping our community safe, and free of being a target of out of state drug dealers, and the associated criminal element that follows.   

My door is open. Thank you for your time and for your continued support.

Sheriff Keith O. Wood