Previously updated: Aug. 22, 2017, 5:08 p.m.
The first public hearing for the proposed 2018 county budget last week began with a long list of changes read by District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines.
Included in his list, which would reduce the proposed budget by $291,609, mostly through the removal of a 2 percent increase to county employee salaries, were additions to the operating and capital budgets for the sheriff’s office.
The additions Gaines proposed would increase the sheriff’s overall budget by almost $300,000.
Sheriff Jeff Johnson requested $3,864,410 for his department during open budget hearings in July, and in his budget presentation Aug. 10, Commission Chair Billy Thurmond recommended $3,329,882 be allocated, a difference of more than $500,000.
This amount does not include K9, the jail, school resource officers, 911 or court services.
For all of the services provided by the sheriff’s office, Johnson requested $8,130,477, whereas Thurmond proposed $7,344,486, a difference of more than $700,000.
A day after Thurmond presented the budget proposal, Johnson mailed a letter to the commissioners that stated that the proposed funding is “inadequate to perform the duties required of this office.”
He attended the first budget hearing Aug. 17 with attorney Joey Homans, who currently represents Johnson, as well as other elected county officials, speaking on his behalf.
Homans said that he wanted to notify the chairman and commissioners that Johnson had “issues” with the amount proposed and that he and Johnson were open to working with the commission.
Homans said that with the growth that is expected in the city, as well as the large retail activity on Ga. 400, staffing and equipment needs of the sheriff’s office cannot be ignored.
“[Johnson] provided you in July with a staffing analysis from 2015 that shows that under the Georgia Sheriff’s Association report that at that time he was deficient,” Homans said. “They have held on as long as they can...but he’s got to provide law enforcement [and] he’s got to have the budget to do that.”
Johnson said he was currently over budget on numerous line items.
“We’re at one of those places where we’re borrowing from Peter to pay Paul,” he said. “Based upon the numbers we’ve received there’s just no way I can come in under budget, I’d be back before you again on every line item we have just about.”
Based upon the numbers we’ve received there’s just no way I can come in under budgetJeff Johnson, Dawson County Sheriff
Thurmond said he was open to working with Johnson, but pointed out that there had been an increase in the sheriff’s budget since last year, and that amendments from the commission could increase that even more.
“The difference between the FY 2017 and the FY 2018 budget for the sheriff’s office is a little over a $511,000 increase,” Thurmond said. “The majority of that, as in most budgets, went to salary and benefits, because the board saw fit to give the employees a pay raise this past April. So there was a huge increase, and as you heard tonight there’s been a proposal for another $290,000 in reference to capital for the sheriff’s office as well.”
Thurmond did say he was opposed to removing the 2 percent raise from the budget, even as Gaines defended the proposition, stating that if they waited until April, more funds may be available.
“We very much appreciate all of the work the employees do and that’s evident in us agreeing just a few months ago to spend over a million dollars in increasing salaries and applying the salary study that was brought forth,” Gaines said. “As we sit here today we have a challenge of balancing our revenue and balancing our expenses...we’re still having to pull out of reserves, out of our savings account, to pay our everyday bills and that concerns me.”
District 3 Commissioner Jimmy Hamby said he agreed, especially as the board voted during that same meeting not to roll back the county’s millage rate.
“Me, personally, I can’t justify right now giving 2 percent increase in salaries when we’re increasing the taxpayers’ bill too,” Hamby said.
District 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix echoed the sentiments of the other two, as well as proposed not to take the 2 percent increase that all elected officials are slated to get in January until the other employees get a raise as well.
All of the commissioners, as well as Thurmond, agreed.
The second budget hearing will be held at 4 p.m. Aug. 24 and the third at 6 p.m. Sept. 7, both will be in the commissioner's meeting room at the Dawson County Government Center.