County commissioners on Monday turned down a request for an additional $650,000 for the sheriff’s office, even though Sheriff Bill Rogers asked to table the proposal.
“This is just not something we can afford at this time,” said Commissioner Laverne Coleman.
Rogers had placed the request on the commissioners agenda for Monday. The explanation for the request was to allow the sheriff’s office to implement a Standards Division, which had been recommended in the wake of former Sheriff Jody Greene’s tenure, as well as former Sheriff Lewis Hatcher. The division would move the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office closer to receiving national accreditation.
Apparently using part of the $650,000, the sheriff’s office would undergo a restructuring designed to put more deputies on the road, and reduce the number of lieutenant and captain positions, the request form showed.
Chairman Rickie Bullard told the board that Rogers had requested the item be put on hold for a future meeting, but gave the board the option to discuss the request.
County Manager Eddie Madden explained that the reasons behind the budget amendment had changed since the initial request, and that Rogers and other staff had met with the finance office as recently as Monday to discuss the plan. Rogers did not return an email requesting more information about the $650,000 amendment.
Commissioner Giles “Buddy” Byrd questioned where the funds would come from, especially since the county budget had been approved less than two weeks ago. The fiscal 23-24 budget goes into effect July 1.
Madden explained that the board would have to approve a tax increase or pull the money from the fund balance, which is closely monitored by the Local Government Commission. The county is still undergoing an intensive audit that Madden requested when he was initially hired. Madden indicated that the LGC would not look favorably on the amendment, especially since the CCSO is currently $1.6 million over budget for FY 23. Madden said estimates of revenue from housing federal prisoners had been overestimated by around $1 million, and other unexpected expenses made up the remaining $600,000.
Madden said that the county commissioners have brought the CCSO’s salaries to a level competitive with other similar sheriff’s offices, including Bladen, Pender, Scotland and Robeson. Using the $650,000 to further raise salaries would mean the same extra amount would have to be budgeted next year, he said, unless salaries were cut for all employees.
“This is on top of the three percent Cost of Living Adjustment you gave all employees,” Madden said.
The sheriff’s office budget has grown from $10.6 million in 2019 to $15.5 million this year, Madden said, significantly more than other departments. Madden noted that commissioners have historically supported the sheriff’s office, but this year had identified Emergency Services as an area in need of more funding.
Coleman made a motion to deny the request, with Barbara Featherson adding a second. Commissioner Scott Floyd was excused from voting, since he is employed by the sheriff’s office.
Commissioner Chris Smith emphasized that all members of the board support the improvements in the sheriff’s office, but the late request was not feasible.
“We just can’t afford it,” he said. “The citizens of this county can’t afford this right now.”