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7:56 PM Tue, Sept. 25th

Sheriff's forum deals with community concerns

Jo. L. Keener/The Daily 
Courier<p>
Ernie Cox, left, is given a question by moderator Kay Harlan as Sheriff Steve Waugh waits for his turn to respond during a Republican Women of Prescott candidate forum at Hotel St. Michael Tuesday. Both Cox and Waugh are seeking the Sheriff position in the fall election.

Jo. L. Keener/The Daily Courier<p> Ernie Cox, left, is given a question by moderator Kay Harlan as Sheriff Steve Waugh waits for his turn to respond during a Republican Women of Prescott candidate forum at Hotel St. Michael Tuesday. Both Cox and Waugh are seeking the Sheriff position in the fall election.

Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh and Ernie Cox, a candidate for sheriff, actually agreed on something during the sheriff's forum the Republican Women of Prescott hosted at Hotel St. Michael Tuesday.

"My signs are being removed, too," Waugh said.

Cox expressed his frustration over the theft and criminal damage of vandals taking down his election signs. "Let people vote on Sept. 2," he said. "But don't take my signs down."

The two talked to the attendees about their qualifications, the issues facing the sheriff's office and their plans for the next four years.

In answer to how the cost of fuel is affecting the sheriff's department, Waugh said that he would try to cut things that are not essential while maintaining his level of staffing.

"We drive 3.4 million miles a year," he said. "That costs you as a taxpayer $750,000. Last year, the cost was $500,000. We have to work on some ways to cut that and look at better ways of doing business."

Cox said that deputies have the option of living in Prescott Valley and working in Bagdad. That involves traveling time and fuel. "They should be stationed in their area," he said.

Another questioner from the audience asked what the candidates thought would be the greatest challenge Yavapai County faces in the next four years. "Growth is one," Cox said. "We have to bring our revenues back up. Another is the budget. And the morale of the department needs to be brought back up."

"I think we have to maintain the level of service that we have elevated ourselves to in the past three and a half years," Waugh responded. "We have to look at the jail in the way it is financed - if there is not enough sales tax revenue, it comes out of the general fund. We established a committee to discuss additional sales tax."

Waugh also wants to work on bringing services closer to the communities. "We're opening a substation in Williamson Valley in September," he said. "We will have seven full-service substations. People feel safer when a substation is in their area."

"The challenge all focuses on money," Waugh added. "We have to be judicious and creative in the way we manage our budget."

The last question during the forum asked what the sheriff's office will do to lessen the drug problem in Yavapai County over the next four years.

"We have to listen to the public," Cox replied. "They know where the meth houses are ... who's dealing. Arrest the drug abusers. Eventually they will tell you where they got their drugs. If we don't work together, the problem will only get larger."

He also said that gangs bring in many drugs and will sell them to anybody of any age. Cox stressed that resource officers need to be in the schools educating children about the dangers of drugs.

"In 2005, I created a seven-person narcotics team that did not exist before," Waugh said. "Narcotics arrests are up 100 percent from 2005 to 2007. And I have not been able to find a meth lab in more than two years. I think the community is safer because of the methamphetamine effort over the last three and a half years."

Contact the reporter at jtwaddell@prescottaz.com