Rural police contracts one of casualties in sheriff's budget cuts

Wednesday, February 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) -- Part-time contracts with rural police are one of the first casualties of the new Muskogee County sheriff's cost-cutting initiatives.

Sheriff Charles Pearson ended the contracts, which allowed six part-time deputies to help the county while they were off duty from their main law enforcement jobs. The deputies were paid $600 a month.

Pearson is cutting about $7,500 a month from his budget of approximately $1.5 million a year. Pearson said the cuts were unavoidable, but he said he doesn't like losing the public relations and enforcement tool in remote pockets of the county.

"I need this program, but I can't afford to pay it," he said.

"At least right now."

Pearson's budget problems are a holdover from the administration of former Sheriff Cliff Sinyard, whom Pearson beat in the November election. Sinyard's money woes spawned a state investigation and repeated confrontations with other county officials.

A state audit criticized Sinyard for allegedly using federal grant funds for other purposes. State investigators are examining those allegations.

Pearson told his part-time deputies a month ago that their contracts would end Thursday. The deputies all served separate law enforcement duties in Braggs, Porum and Boynton.

Boynton Police Chief Cliff Van Brunt said he put in more than the 16 hours a week required by his county contract.

"We covered the whole west side of the county," Van Brunt said. "He's not going to be able to do that for a while."

Pearson said he'd like to renew the part-time contracts by July, the start of the next fiscal year. Until then, he said he will have to rely much more on his 13 full-time deputies.

"They took a lot of the strain off of us," he said of the part-time deputies. "When I was a deputy four years ago, I worked a lot of hours, and I knew how nice it was to have those guys there."

The Muskogee County Sheriff's Office will remain committed to community policing, Pearson said. He has hired a new grant writer to ensure that the program meets federal guidelines.

Pearson has cut his staff to 71 employees, down from about 87 people when Sinyard left office.