"If we lose federal inmates the county is in big trouble," he said.
Kirby, a retired Tampa, Fla., police officer now living in Wilmington, said if the rate for federal inmates can't be increased the jail should de-certify 60 cells, which would allow staff reductions and save tax dollars.
Tyler countered he is opposed to any staff cuts.
"We have a lot of hard-working, good, dedicated people there," he said. "Maybe with better direction things would run more smoothly."
Kirby said saving money at the jail would allow for creation of a sheriff department road patrol.
A road patrol would respond to emergencies, patrol secondary roads ignored by state police, provide security in local courts, check on registered sex offenders and answer resident complaints, he said.
"There are certain things the state police can't provide, so where do we turn?" Kirby asked. "Using police officers to work in a jail is not cost effective. We need them on the road."
Tyler disagreed with the need for a road patrol.
"If a town has an (law enforcement) issue we'll take care of it," Tyler said. "To just send a road patrol out there doesn't make much sense. Common sense is the word."
Tyler stressed the need for the sheriff's department to work closely with state and town police.
"We're all in this together," he said. "We all pay taxes. We need to work together."
Both candidates agreed the sheriff's office should play a key role in substance abuse prevention and education. Both want deputies in local schools working with children.
They also agree Essex County needs a new sheriff.
"I see a lot of things that are wrong (in the sheriff's department)," Tyler said. "I'm not one to sit back and complain. I'd like to make the sheriff's department a role model."