HAMILTON, Mont. - An increase in violent crime, a surging population of jail inmates, and more evidence of illicit drugs in Ravalli County, is prompting its sheriff to call for a hike in his budget.
Sheriff Chris Hoffman delivered his request for an extra $400,000 over his current budget of $5,021,354.
In the first round of budget dealings, the sheriff gave an impassioned plea to a board he said has grown mired in "suffocating" layers of bureaucracy. Hoffman told county commissioners his office has been doing more with less for years. But he said inadequate funding is putting his deputies in more danger than ever.
Escalating numbers of homicides and violent drug crimes are trends, said the sheriff, that aren't going away.
"Caseloads continue to grow with investigations into crimes which used to occur only once in awhile," said Hoffman, "but now are regular occurrences."
Hoffman wants 10 more deputies added over the next 5 years. That's two a year. He currently has 31 deputies on staff.
"We are steeped in very real, very serious social problems right here in our own backyard," said Hoffman.
This year, there was a murder-suicide in Darby. A burglar was shot and killed entering a citizen's home. A deputy shot and killed a man who allegedly pulled a gun on him.
Hoffman said the busiest months are still ahead, and Ravalli County is "on pace for a record-breaking year."
The daily census of jail inmates has skyrocketed, said Hoffman.
"Probably 32 to nearly 65 in average in these first four months of 2014," he said.
Hoffman said the 911 phone system and communication equipment needs upgrading.
He said he wants control back over his budget for unexpected expenses, like buying a used car for his fleet.
"They need 72 hours to put that on," he said, "and then I'm questioned round about why I'm buying this particular vehicle. It is my firm belief that the citizens of this county elected me to run the sheriff's office, not this board."
The sheriff said members of the board have created policy after policy that have done nothing but impede his ability to direct the sheriff's office.