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Budget cuts force Powell Co. sheriff to cut two deputies

By Paige Sedgewick, Reporter, psedgewick@kcfw.com
Published On: Aug 06 2014 07:09:48 AM MDT
Updated On: Jun 24 2014 11:47:47 PM MDT
DEER LODGE, Mont. -

One western Montana county is losing two deputies after a mill levy failed, and the remaining law enforcement is stretched very thin.

Powell County commissioners said they had no choice.  The public safety law enforcement mill levy was their last option.

With the voters denying it, commissioners cut sheriff's budget.

The county relies on federal money. They already receive payments in lieu of taxes for the general fund, but with uncertainty in receiving money from the Secure Rural Schools act they had to make cuts.

Powell County covers more than 2,300 square miles. It's roughly the size of Delaware, and just over 7,000 residents live there.

Until now, the sheriff had five officers to cover the area, but after the budget cuts the county eliminated two of them.

Commissioners are looking for the sheriff's department to cut $200,000. Sheriff Scott Howard says he can't do it without losing deputies who cover a county that takes an hour and a half to drive through at normal speeds.

"One of my big fears -- a nightmare -- is that when I get two calls at the same time and it's just myself or one of them, putting someone in a priority, how do you do that?" asked Howard.

"Working on plans on how we are going to be as active as we can be, but it's going to be very difficult,” said Howard.

With two deputies gone Howard has support from other counties, but calls in their jurisdiction will take priority over Powell County.

"If we have an officer out there that's in trouble and there's no patrolman around, it could be a bad situation," said Howard.

County officials say they are dependent on state and federal funding which has been shrinking for years, and Powell County is now feeling the domino effect.

"When a county becomes dependent on state and federal funding, I don't have a solution. That's a terrible place to be in," explained Howard.

Eliminating two positions still doesn't reach the $200,000 budget cut, so the sheriff is still looking for more cost cutting.

The two layoffs will take effect July 21.