Previously updated: Sept. 26, 2017, 5:44 p.m.
The Dawson County Board of Commissioners on Thursday voted unanimously to pass the upcoming year’s $38.6 million budget amid contention with the Sheriff, who says the amount the commission has allocated for his department is not enough for his officers to effectively do their jobs.
Sheriff Jeff Johnson has been given $7,365,547 out of the $8,130,477 he asked for from the county.
Johnson joined the commissioners for a special called meeting earlier in the week to discuss the funds proposed for the sheriff’s office. Johnson’s attorney Joey Homans stated that the proposed budget didn’t allow new positions to be filled within the sheriff’s office and cut funds for training and equipment.
Homans also disputed the commission’s recommendation to put $260,000 aside for a new computer aided dispatch system for the E911 call center, stating that he would provide the legal basis that SPLOST proceeds could be used to fund the CAD system so that the money could be freed up for other uses within the sheriff’s office.
District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines equated the the idea to having a savings account, as the commission intends to allocate more money in 2019 to cover the rest of the cost of the system. The funds were transferred from the capital improvements fund into the E911 fund with the approval of the budget.
Also approved in the budget for the sheriff is a new school resource officer position, which will cost the county $30,000 with the other $30,000 supplied by the board of education, as well as $40,000 for an HVAC system.
Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond said during the Sept. 19 meeting that he didn’t have an issue with the sheriff using remaining funds from the 2017 budget to purchase some of the items that weren’t approved in the 2018 budget as long as he had a zero balance at the end of the year.
Thurmond also emphasized protecting the county's fund balance by making sure the budget matches actual revenue.
“The 2017 budget is heavily dependent on the money we currently have in fund balance,” Thurmond said. “The 2017 budget today would require over $2 million of fund balance use if every department spent the money they were allocated in 2017. In 2018, if the board approved the budget that has been presented and proposed, we would spend $1.4 more million of fund balance money.”
Thurmond said that a minimum of 15 percent of the fund balance should be maintained for contingencies, like the tropical storm earlier this month that has resulted in thousands of dollars in cleanup costs.
The commission was united in their message Thursday night before approving the budget.
“As a commissioner one of our greatest responsibilities is the use of not our money but the taxpayer money...I believe our board strives to live within our means and strives to live within the revenue that we’re seeing,” Gaines said. “If revenues do increase down the road, then I think we as a board could work hard towards funding some of those priorities and knocking those off as we have funding.”
Johnson said Tuesday that he is evaluating potential next steps.
“We firmly believe that we justified the needs to have additional officers on our streets, in our neighborhoods and in our retail areas; however the board of commissioners denied those requests,” Johnson said. “We know through statistics, calls for service and mere observation that this county has and continues to change daily. If we are to successfully administer our primary duty of providing public safety, we must have the cooperation of those who are charged with setting the budget.”