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Posted: June 17, 2014 10:00 p.m.

BOC still mulling budget options

A week after the Newton County Board of Commissioners seemed to be on the verge of reaching a budget consensus, concerns about public safety, particularly high turnover rates in both the sheriff’s office and fire department, prompted the board to take another look at beefing up funding.

Last week the majority of commissioners had seemed to favor a millage rate of around 11, which would be a drop from the current 11.54 rate; however, while no commissioner said he or she was directly in favor of approving a millage rate higher than last week, multiple commissioners wanted to see if it was possible to buy additional equipment for the Newton County Sheriff’s Office and potentially hire a few more deputies.

Commissioner Levie Maddox also raised concern about the county’s high turnover rates in public safety, which he calculated as being around 13 percent for the sheriff’s office and around 30 percent for the fire department. While he didn’t share specific thoughts on how to reduce turnover, he did encourage the board to have an honest conversation and show courage.

Sheriff Ezell Brown, however, echoed the comments made last week by one of his employees, Susan Gray, who said deputies and correctional officers are underpaid and overworked.

While discussions about adding deputies was brief and may not happen in the current budget cycle, commissioners did appear to agree they wanted to see a couple of additions to this year’s budget, including adding metal detectors at both the Historic Courthouse and Administration Building and giving the sheriff some equipment he requested.

Keeping guns out

All commissioners agreed they wanted to see metal detectors and X-ray machines installed at both the Administration Building and Historic Courthouse to keep guns out of those buildings.

Sheriff Brown gave an impassioned speech against allowing guns into the buildings, which would happen under H.B. 60 if the county doesn’t install security devices.

While initial cost projections were higher, Chairman Keith Ellis and County Manager John Middleton believe both buildings be secured with metal detectors, X-ray machines and deputies to man them for around $200,000.

Commissioner John Douglas had originally been in favor of only putting in security at the Administration Building, which contains the tax assessor and tax commissioner’s offices as well as the election department. However, even he agreed both buildings needed to be secured after he said he found out recently that the man who killed the Griffin police officer in late May had no criminal record and had a concealed weapons permit.

“It makes it hollow for me to say people with permits never break the law,” said Douglas, referencing his own statements last week that he wasn’t worried about legal gun owners.

In order to keep costs down, county officials will look at potentially leasing or doing a lease-purchase to obtain the metal detectors, which costs $5,495 a piece and the X-ray machines, which cost $21,120 a piece, according to a previous report from the Newton County Sheriff’s Office. The Historic Courthouse has one public entrance, while the Administration Building has two public entrances.

Each deputy would cost around $50,000 to employ, but it’s unclear how many more deputies will be needed as each building currently has one deputy for security purposes at all times.

Extra equipment for the sheriff

Commissioners also appeared to be in favor of purchasing more equipment for the sheriff. Douglas, who echoed he wants to see the millage rate reduced all the way to 10.66, said he was in favor finding a way to honor $194,000 in equipment requests from the sheriff’s office, including:

- $15,000 for a power generator
- $6,000 for a SWAT hostage negotiator phone
- $10,000 for four SWAT AR-15 rifles (to replace outdated weapons)
- $81,600 for four license plate readers
- $6,000 for a patrol tracking dog
- $16,000 for two narcotics dogs (one dog would be a replacement and the other a new one)
- $60,000 for 12 new portable radios

However, that request doesn’t include an additional $489,040 the sheriff requested for equipment and repairs on the jail side, nor does it include any of the 23 deputies and 10 detention (jail) officers he requested at a cost of $1.4 million.
Maddox said that in March commissioners got information showing the Sheriff’s Office had lost 41 employees in the last six months to a year, which represented about $5 million in lost training costs.

Sheriff Brown said his office logged more than 24,000 training hours, and he said many of those employees left soon after completing training at the county’s expense.

“We’re talking about being good stewards of the taxpayers’ money; that’s not being good stewards when you’re spending that kind of money and losing that number of people in a year,” Brown said to commissioners.

Maddox said that according to the Georgia Sheriff’s Association’s formula, Newton County was around 140 employees below recommended levels.

Brown said response times have suffered, especially for minor crimes that are reported after they’ve occurred; when citizens ask Brown why it takes his deputies 30-45 minutes to respond in some cases, he tells them to talk to their commissioners.

Maddox also asked County Manager John Middleton and Assistant County Manager Tom Garrett to work with the sheriff on presenting plans on what purchases for the Sheriff’s Office could be made in future months and years.

Next steps

Middleton asked commissioners to give him and the finance staff until next Thursday, June 26, to come back with some budgets that would include all of the commissioner’s new requests. He asked the board for permission to prepare a budget that wasn’t constrained by any target millage rate for them to review.

Chairman Keith Ellis expressed disappointment at the fact the board did not reach a consensus Monday, and he cautioned commissioners from trying to tackle too much in this budget year. He has openly advocated for a 10.99 budget.

Ellis said the board would have a called meeting when the budget documents are ready to review.

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dct1953: June 18, 2014 9:06 a.m.

Someone please get the Sheriff a crying towel. Somewhere he has to take some of the responsibility for the shape of his department as well as should the fire chief. When the 2011 SPLOST was written i don't recall the sheriff pushing to hard for more equipment to be put into that SPLOST which in turn would have freed up more money in the general budget to help with pay for his employees. I don't recall him pushing for more debt relief being put in the 2011 SPLOST to pay down debt so more money would have been available in the general budget for people. I don;t recall him trying to stop all the wasteful spending going into the 2011 SPLOST for an Ag center we don't need and all the district 4 spending. I have a right to post this because i was out there pushing for more debt relief and more of the 2011 SPLOST to go to Safety Department. I don't think you have a leg to stand on when you come up at budget time pushing for something when you did nothing to help get us to a better postion with better or at least some planning. We are in this budget mess today because a rotten job has been done by elected officials and department heads in planning and writing good SPLOST. The money for the medal detectors could have been bought with SPLOST if any kind of planning had been done. We should already have the 2017 SPLOST written right now but it want be done until right before it time to be voted on and will be again loaded with waste and stuff we don't need including district 4 projects and again our safety departments will be neglected. So the people problems we have with pay and lack of people in our safety departments are the result of poor planning by our elected officials and department heads. They put district 4 projects and civic centers, ag centers as well as a million dollar attorney ahead of you county employees and taxpayers and will continue as long as you elect poor planners to office.

dawgs14: June 18, 2014 9:35 a.m.

Nice homework and discussion by Commissioner Maddox on the numbers at the sheriff's department. Those are facts and figures that help make a budget discussion productive - no matter how you vote.

Mr. Chairman, nice work applying pressure when needed. Keep it moving!!

dct1953: June 18, 2014 10:10 a.m.

Facts and figures will show that a higher percentage of the budget in Newton already go to the sheriff's department than does so in most all other counties in georgia. If only Maddux and Ellis paid as close attention to legal and splost waste as they claim to here.

dawgs14: June 18, 2014 10:25 a.m.

dct1953, cite your "facts and figures" please.

dct1953: June 18, 2014 11:20 a.m.

dawgs14 or should I say commissioner- look up Hall County budget. They have 179,000 citizens as compared to Newton 101,000. Newton is proposing a sheriff budget of 20.5 million. Hall's total Sheriff budget is 27 million and they are taking care of 78,000 more people.

dct1953: June 18, 2014 11:40 a.m.

Another fact dawg14. Look up Whitfield County which has about the same population as Newton. Their sheriff and jail budget is only 11,914,608 and only 12,703,875 when they include, emergency services which Newton does not. Look it up.

dct1953: June 18, 2014 10:12 p.m.

Where you go Dawg14? I gave you facts. Got to love how some at the BOC ask for facts but when you give them facts they run off and find a rock to hide behind. Probably working to come up with another screen name with Dawg in it. The facts are by numbers as well as sources the Sheriff Dept has plenty ( probably to much) manpower as compared to others. I've been told they have to many holding down postions but doing little to no actual work. Looks like what they need to do is find the ones not working- fire them- and they would have plenty of money to pay the ones doing the work a proper salary. Of course liberals don't care if anyone is working as long as they can keep you feeding them money.

summertime: June 19, 2014 6:16 a.m.

I think someone should be held accountable as to where the money is being spent in public safety . Only about five new cars in since cars were purchased about five years ago . No new equipment .for the S O and the deputies are having to buy uniforms . The total budget for a deputy for uniforms is $250 a year .That equals out to approx two pair of pants,three shirts and a pair of shoes to last a year. If you need a winter jacket you can save your money and buy one for about $150. And people wonder why the sheriff's Office-looks so tattered and sad . Well all but a few hand picked special fellows .

dawgs14: June 19, 2014 9:11 a.m.

I'm here and I'm not a commissioner but maybe you should be. You gave me one or two counties. I believe your comment said many or most counties. Again, run for commissioner or chairman and you would have the opportunity to save the county you live in. You gotta give me more than 2 counties. Again, cite your sources please.

dct1953: June 19, 2014 4:36 p.m.

Carroll County Georgia Population 110,000 people (Newton 101,000) Carrol County Sheriff budget 13.2 million- Jail 2.7 for total of 15.9 million Newton 19.1 and wants to increase to 20.1 source Carrol County Website. Dawg14 you will probably see me running in 2016 but the goal is to get rid of all these idiots on the BOC who are ruining Newton.

dct1953: June 19, 2014 9:28 p.m.

Agree with you 100% summertime. All department budgets need to be audited from outside. Shame deputies are having to buy their own clothes for doing their jobs. Bet the commissioners, chairman and sheriff getting plenty of clothes allowance. What is pitiful is that if the sheriff gets this budget increase not one penny will help with the uniforms. All the equipment could have been bought with SPLOST. I believe the commissioners get at least $200 a month to buy clothes and look pretty at commissioner meeting and don't believe they will ever save a life.

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