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Sheriff ‘begging' county for more funds

  • Saturday, April 26, 2014

Taylor Griffith/Journal Scene Sheriff L.C. Knight makes his case for increased funding to Dorchester County Council.

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In hopes of growing county law enforcement to match a growing population, Sheriff L.C. Knight begged Dorchester County officials for nearly half a million dollars more in the 2014-2015 fiscal year at a county budget retreat April 10.

“We are in a danger zone as far as I’m concerned,” Knight said. “I don’t care who the sheriff is, he could be Superman, he would still be in here asking for money.”

The Sheriff’s presentation was given to Dorchester County Council and other county officials at the Capital Improvement Planning Retreat detailing the office’s current operations and where it needs improvement. The retreat was held at the Dorchester County EMS building in Summerville.

“As you’ll see as we go through the presentation, our office is way behind in growth of the county, which makes it harder and harder to do our jobs,” the sheriff said. “I want this, but I feel like as a manager at the Sheriff’s Office, we need this.

“I’m here begging and asking you to please give us some consideration.”

His requests for funding centered mostly on personnel.

For the 2014-2015 fiscal year, the Sheriff’s Office requested $448,769 in funds to hire 23 new employees and upgrade nine current employees from part time to full time positions. The estimate includes salary and benefits.

Specifically, DCSO is requesting funding for two new dispatchers, four new deputies, 10 new officers to staff the new jail, and new administrative employees, as well as an upgrade for nine part time court officers to full time.

Sheriff Knight said his request was modest compared to what the office should ideally have. He gave particular emphasis to hiring more dispatchers, who he described as the “bloodline” of emergency operations for the entire county and many of the municipalities.

He also emphasized that the county needs to budget sufficient funds for staffing at the new jail now so the facility can be used to full capacity when it’s built.

Many of his other staffing requests, including upgrading the part time court positions to full time, was in an attempt to save money, he said, which will eliminate the overtime compensations the county is paying.

He used a comparison of statistics between DCSO and Summerville Police Department to help give the council perspective.

According to the data presented, SPD serves 40,000 people in 20 square miles and has 10 to 12 officers on duty each shift. DCSO serves the entire county population, spanning 530 square miles, and has 13 officers on duty per shift.

“I hope this is a kind of reality check,” the sheriff said.

Knight did present good news – DCSO has received $2.6 million in grants over the past five years, a trend the office hopes to continue.

But the grants are not enough, and the presentation left county councilmembers wondering where the extra funds could come from.

“I think we’re missing a lot of revenue,” said Councilman Larry Hargett. “We’re dispatching for Ridgeville and Harleyville [police departments], why are they not helping to pay for that?”

More emergency services funding issues came to light during the remainder of the budget retreat: there is an estimated funding gap of $3 million for the new jail, the dispatch center needs a $913,613 upgrade to its 12-year-old system, the fire department is requesting a new vehicle to respond to medical calls so the fire trucks don’t need to be used as frequently, and the county wants to purchase a $60,000 emergency notification system to assist in keeping the public informed during emergencies like the ice storms this winter.

With budgetary restraints pulling the county in several different directions, Chief Financial Officer Justin Powell advised Council to use multiple funding options – pay-as-you-go financing, general obligation bonds and lease-purchasing financing – to pay for all of the expenses.

The retreat was the last planning workshop before the budget is presented for first reading at the May 5 County Council meeting.

Two more budget retreats will take place before the budget is passed, on May 8 and May 29.

Council will hear budget presentations from multiple constituencies, including both school districts, Dorchester Seniors Inc. and the library, on May 19 and 27 in Summerville and St. George, respectively. Afterward, on both dates in both locations, public hearings on the budget will be held.

The council will hear the third and final reading of the 2014-2015 fiscal year budget on June 2.

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