Commission says no to Yeager’s budget request

Thu, 12/22/2005 - 4:11pm
By: Ben Nelms

“If my office closed and we all went home at five o’clock, I probably wouldn’t be up here,” said Coweta County Sheriff Mike Yeager to commissioners Dec. 15.

Yeager asked for 28 additional deputies and more than a dozen other staff, but commissioners stuck by their guns, approving only 11 deputies for the upcoming Jan. 5 vote on the $38 million budget that runs January through September.

Stating his case for needing 28 new deputies at the new Justice Center instead of the 11 approved by commissioners, Yeager referenced the increase in case load for the various courts along with those in his office as the date nears for the opening of the county’s new Justice Center. The salaries for the 28 deputies would total $980,726 compared to the $385,286 for the 11 officers allocated by the board.

Currently, said Yeager, 10.5 officers are dedicated to the court system. Those people also serve warrants and civil papers and provide transport for various individuals, he said.
“We did our staffing analysis and our staffing plan and submitted them in July. We showed the need for 28 additional officers for the two multi-story buildings,” said Yeager. “Our court staff this year will serve close to 5,000 warrants, but that number is down over 2004 because we’ve had to dedicate much more time to the courts. The deputies assigned to the courts also help answer calls with other deputies, around 2,400 of them per year. Our (required) out of county trips are way up, we’ve served 1,200 more civil papers this year than we did last year and our court hours have also drastically increased. We will have spent 15,000-16,000 hours in court this year. And we’ve also asked for additional personnel to work the road. Our patrol division will work well over 50,000 calls this year. That’s up over 5,000 calls over last year but we’re not going to be able to increase the manpower.”

Yeager said deputies would log more than one million miles patrolling the county and handle almost 900 traffic accidents. He provided other statistics demonstrating the need to increase personnel in his office including the jail division, school resource and criminal investigations division.

“With what we’re doing the numbers are big and growing each and every year,” said Yeager. “We’ve kind of outgrown ourselves now, as far as what we can do and how we can do it. We’re still going to provide a level of service, we’re not going to back out on that. But it is taxing to the staff. And overtime is up and it will continue until we get we can get the necessary people to to the job. I want you to take all this into consideration.”

Responding to a question by Chairman Larry DeMoss on how the board could find the resources to accommodate his request, Yeager said he was not sure, though he added that keeping the millage rate steady with no increases or decreases over a period of the past several years would have accommodated his requests and that of other county departments.

“Over the years the county has grown a lot in population and we haven’t been able to keep up with that growth and it’s really starting to hurt us now,” said Yeager. “It’s stretching us to the wire.”

Commissioners thanked the sheriff for his comments, adding that items such as video equipment has been installed recently. Commissioner Leigh Schlumper said the Sheriff’s Office will be receiving significantly more personnel than other departments that expressed a need. The Public Works department requested more than 30 additional employees but only received funding for two part-time employees. Public Safety operations, she said, is always something that needs and receives attention. Constraints such as a nine-month budget cycle beginning in January added to the difficulty in appropriating the funds Yeager requested, she said.

“We cut a lot out of the budget but Public Safety got as much as we could (give it),” said Schlumper.

Referencing the budget as one encompassing document, County Administrator Theron Gay said the budget is zero-based. He said items that would have been supported for funding could not be because of insufficient funding. We were nearly $3.5 million short on revenues based on what recommendations would have been, he said. Eleven of the (Sheriff’s) positions, with an allocation of $385,286 in salaries, went specifically for deputies assigned to the Justice Center, Gay said. The reality of less revenue being generated means staffing concerns in a number of departments will not be addressed during this budget cycle, he said.

“Because of that we had to go back and cut out lot of personnel and other things. We could have supported more positions if we’d had more revenue. The bottom line is that this a balanced budget recommendation to carry out the fund balance. The budget recommends a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment, a few additional personnel and equipment needs,” said Gay. “What’s also in here is the recommendation for funding 15 new positions, with 13 of those associated with opening the new Justice Center.”

Also addressing commissioners was Clerk of Court Cindy Brown and Solicitor Robert Stokeley, who sought staff increases, and former bailiff and law enforcement advocate Norma Haynes, who advocated for personnel increases for Sheriff’s deputies and law enforcement needs.

“I’ve been down at the Justice Center and I’m concerned that we don’t have enough people allocated for that huge place,” Haynes said. “I just want you to realize that that’s something we’re all going to be accountable for if something happens down there. We’re playing catch up with our number of personnel.

Brown followed in suit, informing commissioners she had requested three additional personnel for her office with salaries totaling $95,103. She made the request due to additional requirements and case load. One of those, she said, would have been allocated for jury management. Her office processed more than 600 criminal cases last year, Brown told the board. Brown said she had a possible solution to the funding issue. Though not done in the past, judges are now in agreement to begin charging a $100 court cost fee for criminal cases beginning in January. Those monies will go into the General Fund and might be used to pay for the additional needed, she said. Commissioners said they would take her suggested under consideration.

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