Previously updated: Sept. 12, 2017, 3:30 p.m.
During the third and final budget hearing before the Dawson County Board of Commissioners Sept.7, Sheriff Jeff Johnson and attorney Joey Homans argued that the sheriff’s portion of the proposed 2018 county budget is insufficient to provide for the safety and security of the people.
According to Johnson, changes proposed Aug. 17 by the board of commissioners totaling $300,000, in addition to the $7,344,486 that Chairman Billy Thurmond has proposed for the Sheriff’s Office’s 2018 budget, won’t address the bulk of the difference from the $8,130,477 Johnson requested during his budget presentation in July.
During the hearing, Homans disputed the $260,000 that the board recommends be allocated to the sheriff’s capital projects fund for a new computer aided dispatch system, or CAD, which was part of the changes the board already made to the proposed budget.
Homans said he did not agree with the board’s plan to “park” the money in the fund until 2019 when more money would be budgeted to purchase the new system, which he said could be purchased later through SPLOST, grants or a lease purchase.
“All of those options can be reviewed and those funds, that $260,000, would go a long way to making up the budget shortfall that we have in the sheriff’s department,” Homans said.
“Unfortunately, what you have currently proposed, under any of the options that have been presented, does not permit the sheriff the opportunity to provide reasonable and adequate provisions, personnel and equipment necessary for him to perform his duties and preserve the peace.”
Another issue that further justifies a further increase in the sheriff’s budget, Homans said, is the amount of sales tax the county receives.
“Now that those retail businesses are here, that burden falls on the public safety arms of Dawson County, and that includes the sheriff’s department,” Homans said. “Their call volume to respond to the retail sector of Dawson County is up as you would expect. They need the resources to provide protection to these businesses.”
Johnson said the sheriff’s office has seen a 28 percent increase in calls for service this year, a number that is expected to increase as the new retail centers on Ga. 400 continue to fill up.
Inadequate staffing is a huge part of Johnson’s concern, and he requested nine positions be unfrozen as well as a new investigator position be created. He has been awarded none of those positions.
District 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix said before the hearing that she would like to consider adding funds for a school resource officer, because the school system would pay 50 percent of the cost and the county the other 50 percent. The resource officer position was one of the positions that Johnson requested be unfrozen.
Per her proposal, part of the money, $15,000, could be taken from the sheriff’s SWAT small equipment line item and put towards the SRO budget. That would mean $15,000 more will have to be taken from fund balance.
“To me we can’t be careful enough with our kids,” Nix said.
Johnson thanked the commissioner for her consideration of the resource officer funds.
“But if I’m being blatant here, you’ve offered me a Band-Aid and I need a tourniquet,” Johnson said. “Ladies and gentlemen and I don’t know what else to do but to reiterate what I have so far. We’re currently allotted 112 positions. A 2015 study giong into three years old estimates we need 139 positions to correctly and adequately staff our sheriff’s office...can I tell you that 139 employees would still be sufficient? Probably not.”
The board could vote as early as its Sept. 21 meeting to approve the 2018 budget.