Special to the Enterprise
The dedicated deputy at the county courthouse that was a point of contention only two years before is needed elsewhere, Sheriff Jack Whisenant said at a Monday budget hearing where he detailed his costs to the county commission.
Whisenant said that the deputy that was appointed to act as daily courthouse security by the previous administration will be put on the road but said that plans are already being put together to cover any security issues that may arise from his absence. Any security plan will have to be approved by the superior court before going into effect, he said, but the sheriff is required to have a plan in place. Since deputies, he said, are already required on days in which the various departments hold court the main security issue will fall on the off-days.
To remedy this, Whisenant said that the county will be working with existing year budget moneys to provide structural security at the courthouse to make up for the loss of the deputy – particularly bullet proof glass at the court room windows. Doors to the various departments will also now be closed and the doors reinforced so that no one will actually be able to enter the office without approval by the employees at the front desk.
The transfer of the deputy from the courthouse also played a major role in a $25,000 decrease in the courthouse budget since the deputy costs were added back to the sheriff’s office budget. Meanwhile a major restructure of the deputy hierarchy with the introduction of sergeants over the various shifts and the addition of a canine unit an additional drug investigator and a GCIC certified administrative assistant for the investigative division contributed to a $36,000 increase at the department. As to whether the overtime budget will decrease remains to be seen and will be up to commissioners.
Whisenant said that he left that budget the same this year due to the loss of deputies at the start of his career as sheriff. Deputies receiving training also had to have someone paid to take their place while they were out, he said.
The point brought commissioners to ask whether the sheriff’s office would be included in an upcoming county-wide study on pay to be implemented by the University of Georgia in the coming year. Brian Hendrix said that he had noticed that deputies would often receive training in Brantley County and move to other counties. Whisenant said they would be included and that there were pay discrepancies with new versus old employees that he saw as an issue that needed to be addressed.
Whisenant said he felt he would need the $100,000 overtime budget, but said that he would work with a proposed $90,000 budget if that was the will of the board.
However, the department did also make numerous budget cuts, he said, such as an $87,000 decrease the deputy line item, the elimination of a $25,000 part time deputy position, elimination of $5,000 in informant pay, a $2,000 decrease in uniforms, $8,000 decrease in the chief deputy line item, and a $5,000 decrease in telephone costs.
The department also uses gas cards through Lewis and Raulerson to buy gas instead of coming back to the county pumps to refuel. Whisenant said the cards allow the department to refuel at any Friendly Express and save money since deputies can buy regular fuel while the gas at the county barn is the more expensive mid-grade. The county manager said he did not know why the county was stocking mid grade fuel but that he would look into the item.
Offsetting many of the cost increases on the sheriff’s office side was a $23,000 decrease at the jail that came, primarily, from decreases in the prisoner expense and boarding fees, a $15,000 decrease in repair and maintenance, a $12,000 decrease in personal hygiene items for prisoners, a $25,000 decrease in utilities, a $9,000 decrease in laundry supplies line items and a $2,000 decrease in uniforms.
Altogether with the deputy swap from the courthouse figured in as a transfer of costs from one department to another rather than an increase, the sheriff said his requested budgets for the two departments only came in about $6,000 over last year’s approved budget and would add three employees in the process. And if the county approves a $10,000 cut to the overtime budget, it could actually be slightly less.
Commissioners and county manager Carl Rowland also pledged at the hearing while discussing other budget areas that if they needed to make further cuts in various departments to keep costs down and the millage from increasing, they would do so.
Cuts could even come from the self-slashed airport authority which cut its own budget by about $18,000 this year. Commissioner James Spradley proposed cutting the existing proposed advertising budget from $2,000 for the year to just $1,000 saying that the line item was higher than many other departments. However, the authority’s impromptu leader Josh Cothren said at previous meetings of the authority, that that budget was left in for good reason explaining that while most of Brantley was aware of the airport – whether on good or bad terms – many pilots outside the county didn’t even know it had reopened and that the authority needed to take steps to get the word out about the authority. The money would also be used to host fly-ins that would integrate local businesses that he hoped would show activity at the airport while also making a positive financial impact on the local economy.
However, commissioners did agree at the meeting to cutting the budget back with the county manager adding that if the authority needed the extra money and could make a solid case, it could pull from contingency funds.
County manager Rowland continued this theme for many departments explaining that rather than having each department budget for “what-ifs,” the county should instead have one pool of backup money from which to pull if it was absolutely necessary. Rowland said that otherwise, if the money in the line item wasn’t used, it would sit there in each department.
The county also briefly reiterated the reasons for an increase in the elections board budget from about $72,000 to just over $106,500 for the upcoming year due to the plan to consolidate the county’s nine precincts into three. A plan approved by the elections board after considerable discussion earlier this year.
Meanwhile salaries, overtime and group insurance and estimated costs in gas and oil will be the primary drivers behind a road department cost increase from $1.2 million to $1.5 million for the coming year.