HOMER — Banks County Sheriff Carlton Speed has significantly reduced his office’s budget request for 2017-2018, down two-thirds from his initial request for an increase of $1.2 million.
At Friday’s budget hearing for the sheriff’s office and jail, Speed and Chief Deputy Shawn Wilson went over the budget requests, including $288,130 in salary-related adjustments.
Among those is increasing the base salary for a patrol deputy to $40,000. That’s still $6,422 less than the starting salary for a state officer.
“With this last raise in the state salary, the governor has actually put a price on law enforcement,” Wilson said. “For the first time really it’s set, $46,422 is what a law enforcement officer should make, and they’ve stood by this. And the problem is, unfortunately he pointed the finger back at local and municipal government and said, ‘now y’all take care of it’.”
But the new higher state salary already is having a negative effect on the Banks County Sheriff’s Office.
“I had a sergeant come in yesterday, and his last day is the 16th of this month,” Speed told commissioners. “You know where he’s going? Going to the State of Georgia … not even going to Georgia State Patrol. He’s going to MCCD [Motor Carrier Compliance Division of the Georgia Department of Public Safety] making $46,000 a year. He’s one of my senior officers. He’s got 10 years of experience.”
Patrol sergeants run shifts at the sheriff’s office, and Speed said he is concerned this won’t be the last officer he loses to the state because they can make more money.
“I can’t compete with it,” Speed told commissioners.
Banks County Commission Chairman Jimmy Hooper quoted the following figures to Speed for starting salaries in surrounding counties: Franklin County - $32,647; Habersham County - $32,713; Madison County - $31,304; White County - $33,495.
“Franklin County has got PDs, Madison County has got PDs, Habersham County’s got PDs,” Speed told Hooper. “Every one of those counties you mentioned has PDs that answer calls in those counties. We don’t have that. We’ve got three to four officers per shift who answer every call in Banks County.”
Under his budget submission, Speed also is adding positions back to the jail to bring the facility to full staffing, increasing that budget.
Inmate population when Speed took office five years ago was low enough that positions could be moved from the jail to patrol. Now, that trend has changed.
“Our jail population is increasing daily,” Speed said. “On an average, we’re between 54 and 58 inmates a day. Our max is 60. Since we’ve been in office it’s steadily increased, and that is a direct result of the governor’s criminal reform. What he’s done at the state level is shifted the burden of the state prison system back to the counties, and we’re going to continue to see an increase.”
Speed explained why the increase in personnel is required.
“We’re trying to get back up to staff to four per shift,” Speed said. “We’ve got to have that. That’s a standard that’s set that we have four per shift when we’ve got that many inmates in our facility.”
Under Speed’s proposed budget, the jail salaries line item of $583,000 will increase to $664,599.
The combined total of all increases for the sheriff’s office and jail comes in at $400,269.
After the hearing before commissioners, Speed discussed his request.
“The sheriff’s office asked for a considerable increase this year in the budget to start with when we started first doing the numbers due to the raises that were received by state employees,” Speed said. “The commissioners failed to see that it was necessary to go to that level, so we negotiated an amount so that our officers will get a 5-percent increase based on a starting salary point for all first responders. It’s going to be a nice raise, but it’s still not where we think it should be for people who put on a badge and a gun and protect the citizens of Banks County every day.”
During and after the budget hearing, Speed pointed out Banks County has a unique situation in that the sheriff’s office is the only law enforcement agency based in the county for response. The only police departments are in cities located primarily in other counties, so they patrol only the portion of their cities located inside Banks County.
That leaves deputies relying on their co-workers to back them up, unless Georgia State Patrol has a trooper in the county. Otherwise, any back-up units typically have to come from outside Banks County.
“Banks County is a full-service sheriff’s office,” Speed said. “We’re one of those agencies where we have nobody else within the county – we don’t have any PDs, per se, that answer calls inside Banks County. Having said that, we had the officer that was shot last week and I find it hard to believe that people in the state of Georgia don’t deem it necessary to pay our law enforcement officers what they’re worth when they’re putting their lives on the line out there every day – and it goes to show that it can happen anywhere. It happened right here in Banks County last week when the officer was shot down at I-85, and it could happen anywhere.”
Hooper praised Speed and Wilson for working with commissioners to lower the sheriff’s office budget request.
“I appreciate your effort because a $400,000 increase versus a $1,200,000 increase, that’s a great buy,” Hooper said. “If this is a true budget you think you can operate our county on, our sheriff’s office and jail and provide the services, I commend you.”
Speed reminded Hooper the sheriff’s office has not been over budget in the five years of his administration.
Commissioner Charles Turk expressed appreciation to Speed and Wilson, on the commission’s behalf.
“I appreciate y’all coming back to the table and working with us on it,” Turk said. “It was scary to start out with. I can sleep better tonight now.”
Even outside the Banks County budget process, Speed is concerned about local communities across Georgia as they struggle to find funds to keep pace with state law enforcement salaries.
While the state has increased pay for state law enforcement officers, those increases are not being seen widely on a local level. That concerns Speed, who said growth and promotion of Georgia, coupled with the current climate of some people having no regard for the lives of law enforcement personnel, places local officers in the same situations that their higher-paid state law enforcement counterparts face.
“Georgia being 47th in the nation in pay for law enforcement is an absolute disgrace,” Speed said. “Our state legislators and our leaders at the state level are saying that Georgia is the place to do business in, yet they can’t afford the people who protect all of our children and our citizens and everybody in between who’s traveling through the state.”