LISBON - A new sheriff's deputy has been hired as part of a plan to increase manpower at the Columbiana County Drug Task Force.
County Sheriff Ray Stone reported this week he hired Wellsville police officer Luke Skidmore, whose addition sets in a motion a series of personnel moves resulting in another deputy being assigned to the DTF.
"It's the most important problem in the county," he said of illegal drugs. "As I've told you before, 70-80 percent of crimes are drug-related, one way or the other."
Skidmore will be a road patrol deputy, while Detective Steve Walker is being reassigned to the DTF. This will give the sheriff's office two deputies in the DTF, with the other being Lt. Brian McLaughlin, who serves as DTF director.
Walker is being replaced in the detective bureau by Sgt. Mike Helman, who is currently a shift supervisor of the road patrol. Stone said he recently promoted Deputy Steve Boyd to sergeant, and he will take over as afternoon shift supervisor duties.
Stone said his cash-strapped department was able to afford sending a second deputy to the DTF because one of the federal grants they receive was rewritten to allow $20,000 be spent to help defray the cost. He said county commissioners, as part of their commitment to the DTF, have told him they would "help me if things get tight at the end of the year" by providing additional funding.
Participation in the DTF is on the rise since commissioners offered to provide funding to communities to help offset the cost of assigning police officers to the DTF. Communities assigning an officer full-time to the DTF will receive $20,000 a year, while those committing to 20 hours per week get $10,000, with the money coming from the commissioners' share of state casino taxes.
The following police departments currently have committed assigning officers to the DTF: Columbiana, East Palestine, Lisbon, Salem, Wellsville and Leetonia. The sheriff's department is not receiving any casino tax money to offset its expenses, however.
Stone said assigning a second deputy to the DTF not only helps the agency by providing more manpower for investigations, but it allows the director to spend more time in the office supervising and performing administrative duties, although McLaughlin will continue to work in the field.
In related news, Deputy Willie Coleman filed a grievance because of Stone's decision to promote Boyd to sergeant instead of him. In his complaint, Coleman said he had more seniority with the sheriff's office, but Stone said they denied the grievance because he has discretion in handing out promotions based on a ruling in a prior grievance over a past promotion.
As for the complaint, Stone noted that Boyd came to the sheriff's office from the Lisbon Police Department, where he held a number of supervisory positions during the years he worked there, including serving as acting chief.