OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A massive budget shortfall forced the Haskell County sheriff to lay off all six of his deputies and the undersheriff on Tuesday, leaving him with a skeleton crew to police the east-central Oklahoma county of about 11,800 people.
Sheriff Manual Ballard, who has been in office since 2001, attributed the firings to a lack of funds appropriated by county commissioners in the past fiscal year. Ballard said he has part-time staffers to help run the county jail and answer telephones, but will have to ask other counties for help should an emergency arise.
``I am willing to try to work with the commissioners to resolve the ongoing funding problems for this department, but I will not ask my deputies to risk their lives for free to save the county three-tenths of 1 percent of the commissioners' budget,'' Ballard said in a statement.
Calls to Haskell County Commissioner Gary Maxwell's home and office went unanswered late Tuesday.
Haskell County deputy sheriff Joe Benney told The Associated Press that county commissioners only funded 44 percent of the sheriff's requested $300,000 budget for 2001-2002.
``That money goes to salaries for all the deputies, the feeding and clothing of inmates, equipment and down to the bullets we use,'' said Benney, who works part-time at the facility. ``We're simply out of money.''
Ballard said he would have to wait until the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, to see if he can rehire the deputies.
Traditionally, the Haskell County sheriff's department is underfunded, Benney said.
Although the sheriff's office will be understaffed, officials said calls to the department will be responded to as quickly as possible and the jail will remain open.
The county jail had already been understaffed before the job cuts, records show.
According to a recent Oklahoma State Department of Health jail inspection report, the Haskell County jail had only one jailer on duty for 24 prisoners.