COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County government’s various departments made requests last week that would represent a 19% increase in the General Fund budget if approved.
Requests totaled more than $95 million, which was almost $18 million above the 2022 General Fund — the part of the overall budget that funds most of the county government.
The largest increase was in the part of the General Fund overseen by Sheriff Ezell Brown that includes the sheriff’s office, detention center, Westside and Eastside precincts and school resource officers, which requested a combined $6 million increase.
Brown said the county had progressed throughout its history by working to improve its public services.
“The method of how we move forward is entirely up to you,” Brown told the Board of Commissioners during initial 2023 budget hearings last week.
Among the requests in Brown’s 2023 budget were 32 new positions totaling about $2 million for nine new deputies, seven new investigators, six detention officers and new administrative positions and a purchasing officer.
Brown said his office’s budget requests included addition of a purchasing officer; and a hiring and retention initiative that includes a $3,000 hiring bonus for experienced deputies and detention officers; a $1,500 bonus for non-experienced employees; and a retention bonus of $1,500 for all employees who maintain employment every five years.
“Should this be removed or reduced, we risk the possibility of (not) being competitive with hiring. All the surrounding agencies are currently offering sign-on (and) retention bonuses” according to notes included in Brown’s budget request.
His notes to commissioners also stated he wanted to outfit all newly hired deputies with fully equipped vehicles and is seeking to upgrade a “deteriorated fleet” with some vehicles as old as 17 years.
“Operating older vehicles on the road puts them at risk and increases costs associated with mechanical failures. Vehicles are required for responding to emergencies and ensuring the health and safety of Newton County residents, which is the primary role of law enforcement. Timely repairs and/or purchase of new vehicles need to be prioritized to ensure that there is no disruption in service.”
Brown told Board members he asked them for vehicles in 2019 and “did not know, nor did you know, that COVID was going to happen” in 2020.
He said even if his office had the funding to order 100 vehicles to totally replace his fleet “you still couldn’t get them” in 2020 because of vehicle makers’ plants shutting down production.
He also said he and Board members knew his office had vehicles in need of repair and replacement in 2019.
“But we put it on the back burner and now we are suffering because of the fact that we didn’t act right then,” he said
In response to a question from Commissioner Stan Edwards, Brown said the sheriff’s office had received nine of 16 vehicles for which the Board approved special funding in 2021.
He said the sheriff’s office was still awaiting delivery of the other seven — specially equipped for law enforcement use — but they likely will not arrive until 2023 because of the shortages of parts and computer components all vehicle makers are now facing.
He said Dodge Chargers as old as 2005 models were being used. NCSO is also using Ford Crown Victorias which have not been produced for 11 years but the sheriff’s office is maintaining.
Brown asked that Interim County Manager Jarvis Sims meet with his administrative staff to devise a vehicle replacement plan.
Vehicle requests in the budget included:
• $325,000 for a Bearcat G3 armored vehicle for use by the SWAT team “for various tactical assignments where resident danger and officer safety is high.”
• $190,800 for three Chevrolet Tahoes used for local inmate transport. The cost includes equipment needed for law enforcement purposes such as radios, badging and striping.
• $49,645 for a Chrysler Pacifica minivan for use by Special Investigations Unit, SWAT team and gangs unit.
“Specifically, this vehicle will help transport multiple law enforcement staff to locations while providing the flexibility of adequate space for storing equipment within the vehicle.”
• $947,600 for 23 Dodge Charger vehicles for use by multiple departments including the patrol unit, civil unit and school resource officers,
“Once purchased, these vehicles will replace existing and older higher mileage vehicles which may be transferred to other departments that experience less vehicle usage. Current vehicles being used are prone to more repairs and ongoing maintenance issues as a result of their age and advanced usage.”
• $157,452 for three Dodge Durango SUVs for use by various departments including the Gangs unit.
“Specifically, this vehicle will help transport staff and needed equipment for equipment for law enforcement purposes while potentially providing the flexibility of off-road usage if the situation arises.”
• $44,900 for one Dodge Ram 1500 5x7 bed Crew Cab for use by Special Investigations Unit, SWAT team and Gangs unit. .
“This vehicle will help transport staff and needed equipment while providing the flexibility of adequate cargo space.”
• $97,400 for two Dodge Ram 1500 4x4 Crew Cab trucks for use by Special Investigations Unit and SWAT team.