GAINESVILLE - Overtime paid employees of the Hall County Sheriff's Office last year was more than the previous year but Sheriff Gerald Couch points out that the department was operating with fewer employees.
Couch, now in his second year as sheriff, said overtime has averaged about $1.5 million over the past five years and was $1.4 million last year. This was more overtime than in 2012, but overall "we had fewer employees."
Couch said the reduction in the number of employees was accomplished by both
eliminating positions and not filling positions that were vacant. This was done as the departmental budget was decreased in order to help with the county's economic recovery, the sheriff added.
"In 2013, over 20 positions were eliminated from the Sheriff's Office budget."
Couch said the office also had an increased focus on training in 2013 which had been minimal in years past. In 2012, the Sheriff's Office was budgeted $16.2 million in salaries and $15.4 in 2013.
The Sheriff's Office overall budget in 2012 was $30.2 million and in 2013 it was $29.8 million. This was an overall decrease of $383,420. The 2013 budget also included the restoration of furlough days (approximately $800,000 in salary) which had not been paid out in 2012. Even with the addition of the furlough days payments, "we still remained under the 2012 budget," the sheriff said.
"We look at many factors when establishing a yearly budget, including salaries and overtime. While we would have preferred to have more funds allocated to salaries, in order to give our employees a much needed raise, the county was not in a financial position to make that happen. As the county budget becomes healthier it would be nice to see the restoration of raises and other benefits. In these tough times we have had to do more with less, which can affect your overtime budget."
The county commission ultimately makes the decision as to what will be approved in the budget, but it is up to each agency/department to make and justify their requests for funds.