Lumpkin County’s proposed 2014 budget calls for a reduction of staff in the detention center by eight employees and three in court services—those who serve at the Justice Center. No one would be fired, but positions would not be replaced as people leave.
The staff reductions were the main topic when Sheriff Stacy Jarrard and members of his staff met with county commissioners on the department’s budget last week.
Jarrard admitted he “... did get a little angry when the budget first came out. I’ve always operated the sheriff’s office as tight as I possibly can, and every year I’ve come in under budget. Part of that has been by housing out of county inmates. But revenue from that is down, and will disappear completely in a year,” Jarrard said. “But I was elected to run the sheriff’s office at a high standard, and some of these cuts you’ve made would affect that standard and the professionalism of my office.”
He reminded commissioners that the Office of the Sheriff “has the distinction of not being simply another department. Because the Office of Sheriff is an elected, constitutional office, it’s internal operations are the sole responsibility of the sheriff. The sheriff is not subordinate to, or an employee of a county administrator, manager or county commission.”
The sheriff’s office does, however, depend on the county commission to fund its operations. All revenues brought into the sheriff’s office are turned over to the county—with a few exceptions that are earmarked for specific expenses. In years past, revenue from housing out-of-county inmates has kept the sheriff’s budget, and number of employees, higher than most county departments, who have all lost staff and/or funding.
But the bottom has dropped out of that revenue stream. Surrounding counties have built larger detention facilities and are in competition with Lumpkin County for those out of county inmates.
In 2013 the sheriff’s office was budgeting to bring in $500,000. During the first six months of this year, however, only $71,000 has been realized. With Forsyth County’s new jail expected to be finished this year, there is a strong possibility the out of county revenue stream could dry up completely. Most of Lumpkin’s current outside jail population comes from Forsyth.
“If the sheriff’s office generated nearly $500,000 in 2012 it makes sense you need more staff. But with the reduction in inmates, that should equate with less staff. Is that not fair to say?” Dockery asked. “I understand that eight positions were created for housing out of county inmates. And Gov. Deal just signed criminal justice reform that shortens jail time. Won’t that force a reduction in staff?”
Jarrard said that the reforms already established have actually increased the number of locals in the county jail. When people who have gone through drug court, mental health court or other special courts the legislation set up fail to comply with the terms of their probation, Jarrard said, they end up in the county jail.
“They could be there for the weekend, five days, 30 days,” he said. “But the jail population goes up.”
Commissioner Doug Sherrill told Jarrard he had looked at the per capita costs of several counties with similar population.
“We have the highest per capita of any of the 28 departments and counties I looked at. On average, 50 percent greater. We spend $167 per person on law enforcement in Lumpkin County,” he said.
“You’ve also got to consider the transient population with of the college,” Jarrard countered.
“The percentage is so high I could give you the transients and we’d still be high,” Sherrill said.
“There a difference between south and north Georgia counties,” Major Mike Ramsey told Sherrill. “In south Georgia many counties have multiple municipalities and they have their own police departments. That cuts down on the number of staff the sheriff’s department needs.”
Jarrard told commissioners he “cannot and will not go less than four people in the jail. It’s not safe to do so.”
In a memo sent to commissioners earlier in the week Jarrard suggested two other ways to cut eight employees. One would cut or freeze one position in several departments—one each from the sheriff’s office, fire/EMS, planning/roads, clerk of courts, magistrate court, animal shelter, transit, parks & rec and senior center. Several of these services are not mandated for the county to provide, Jarrard pointed out.
Jarrard’s second suggestion was to freeze four jail, two courts services and two animal control positions. This would, however, he said, have consequences. It would increase overtime, reduce the ability of detention officers to obtain POST certification within two years and encourage deputies to seek employment elsewhere. It would delay booking inmates both in and out, require work details to return to the facility earlier and totally eliminate housing any out of county inmates. It would also reduce or eliminate rehabilitation programs such as GED classes and religious programs.
Stowers told Jarrard it was, as far as he was concerned, wrong to tell the sheriff where to make cuts in his office.
“It’s a challenging situation. It’s the worst budget I’ve ever looked at as far as revenues. We’re the only buffer for the people when it comes to taxes. The problem with the sheriff’s department is that we chose the way to cut your budget. That was wrong on my part, You should be the one to say where to make those cuts,” he said.
“I don’t want to micro-manage your department,” Sherrill told Jarrard. “I want to write you a check and you be responsible for how you spend your money. We’re all in the hot seat, but there’s one player that’s not at the table—the city. How much do they impact the detention center?”
Jarrard told Sherrill he has billed the city at the rate of $1,800 per month, but there has been no response.
Stowers said 38 percent of all the activity handled by the sheriff’s office occurs within the city limits.
“The last city contract with the sheriff’s office was for $167,000 in 1999. If it increased yearly that would be about $3.1 million today,” Stowers said.
The BOC would have to address the issue with the city, Jarrard said.
A few items were batted back and forth on the expense side of the budget. Commissioners questioned why the sheriff’s office was still getting overtime expenses when none of the other county departments are allowed to charge for overtime.
Training, testifying in court, being in the middle of a call when a shift ends and the reality that compensation time doesn’t work for the sheriff’s office were all reasons given. Jarrard also pointed out that if there is less staff, there will be more overtime.
Jarrard objected to having his uniform expense cut. What he asked for “is not an inflated number. I’ve cut uniform expense every year and I can’t cut any more,” he said.
Ramsey was concerned about the cut made to the gas and oil line item.
“That’s a big cut,” he said. “We based our request on $4 per gallon.”
“I feel like we projected a realistic number,” Jarrard said.
“All I know for sure if that we will put gas in the cars to respond to calls,” Ramsey said.
Jarrard told commissioners the only way his office has been able to meet the lean budgets of the past few years has been because there were open positions in the department.
“The average call is 35-45 minutes for patrol officers. That’s not counting detectives. If you take officers away from the department we will have to reduce services,” Ramsey said.