Marion County sheriff, commission agree to budget, but taxes will increase

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Channel 9 has learned there may be a deal in the budget fight between the Marion County Commission and Sheriff Chris Blair, who wanted $8 million more to hire deputies and buy patrol cars.

The sheriff's supporters insist more money is needed to be spent to beef up the force, but supporters of the conservative Marion commission members don't want a tax increase.

At a special meeting Thursday afternoon, Blair and county commissioners tried to cut a deal. Blair originally wanted at least $8 million more in his budget to hire up to 20 deputies and replace patrol cars that have up to 200,000 miles on them.

The county commission was looking at a plan to cut the sheriff's budget, giving him $2 million less than last year.

In a letter obtained by Channel 9, Blair called that proposal troubling and reckless and insisted that would force him to eliminate 175 positions at the Sheriff's Office, which has cut 160 jobs since 2009.

But after closed-door meetings with commission chair Kathy Bryant, Blair has agreed to a flat budget of $67 million, the same as the last fiscal year.

But it will require a tax increase that the county commission promised taxpayers it would not do.

From Blair's perspective, however, it saves dozens of jobs.

"I think that they all have families, they have loved ones they have to support. At the end of the day, it's the right decision," said Blair.

The final budget vote is Thursday night.