Bill to curb sheriff is unveiled Cost of proposal put at $279,000 HARFORD COUNTY

June 29, 1993|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Staff Writer

The initial cost for Harford County to limit the powers of the sheriff will be $279,000, the county executive said yesterday while unveiling proposed legislation to take control of the criminal, correctional and communications divisions of the sheriff's office.

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said her moving to transfer operation of the Detention Center, police dispatch and road patrols from the sheriff to the county would cost taxpayers $104,000 annually.

Much of that total would go to hire a police chief and for administrative support, Mrs. Rehrmann said. The higher first-year costs, she said, would cover one-time expenses such as designing new badges, placing decals on patrol cars and buying new uniforms.

"The proposed legislation should make it possible for everyone [now employed] in the sheriff's office to keep their jobs," Mrs. Rehrmann added.

The catalyst for making the changes, she said, was the case of William M. Ford, a Delaware laborer who was found dead in an isolation cell at the jail March 1, 1992. That death initially was called a suicide by jail officials.

The county paid $400,000 to Mr. Ford's family on April 26 after attorneys for the family threatened a lawsuit contending that Mr. Ford was raped and killed.

Mrs. Rehrmann would not comment on the specifics of the Ford case yesterday, saying it remains under investigation by the Maryland attorney general's office.

The county executive and State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly had requested that investigation earlier in April and Mrs. Rehrmann formed a committee to study shifting much of the power of the sheriff to the county because of the liability problem.

The sheriff's office is not accountable to the county, but the county must pay all costs to defend actions by the sheriff's office, she said.

A public hearing on the proposed legislation is to be held at 7 p.m. July 12 at C. Milton Wright High School near Bel Air. She intends to present it formally to the County Council Aug. 10.

If the legislation is passed by the council, the sheriff's office would be left with about $1.9 million of its current $16 million budget. The office would be reduced to serving court papers and providing security at the Courthouse.

Under the reorganization's plan, a warden would be selected to run the Detention Center. The warden would be appointed by the county executive subject to approval by the County Council.

A police chief, similarly appointed and approved, would oversee operation of the county police force.

Sheriff Robert E. Comes was in meetings yesterday and not available to comment on Mrs. Rehrmann's announcement.

Lt. Col. Thomas P. Broumel, his chief deputy, said the sheriff would make a statement later this week, once he had had a chance to study the proposed legislation.

If passed by the council, the transfer of the jail's operation and shift of the communications functions would occur 30 days after the effective date of the law, Mrs. Rehrmann said.

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