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Commissioners look at sheriff’s requests

By Staff
Consider impact of new positions
By NIKIE MAYO
News Editor
Beaufort County commissioners considered adding a criminal investigator and two “tied to the road” officers to the sheriff’s staff during their budget deliberations Wednesday.
At the end of the evening, they were headed toward putting up matching funds for at least two of the three positions. But that effect wouldn’t be felt in the fiscal year that begins July 1; it would roll to the following budget year.
That consensus didn’t come without a lengthy discussion about how to add the personnel without affecting the budget’s bottom line.
Commissioner Hood Richardson said the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners should add an investigator to the sheriff’s payroll and fund two more positions for the narcotics unit. He said the narcotics unit’s employees could be paid from a $100,000 pot in drug-seizure money from Beaufort County. Richardson suggested relying on salaries from unfilled deputy positions to pay for a criminal investigator.
He said the sheriff’s office has to send out letters indicating that it cannot investigate incidents of “petty theft” in which stolen property is valued at less than $1,000.
Commissioner Al Klemm said the county needs two interdiction officers — lawmen who are “tied to the road” according to County Manager Paul Spruill’s explanation of their job descriptions. The officers would be specifically looking for serious violations of the law and have the authority to search vehicles if they felt they had probable cause to do so.
Commissioners’ Chairman Jay McRoy said he wanted to know how many deputy positions are vacant. Commissioners also had questions about just how badly Sheriff Alan Jordan needs the $30,712 criminal investigator and a couple of equipment items that were requested.
Chief Deputy Harry Meredith was summoned to speak during the last half-hour of the budget session, first addressing equipment needs.
Meredith said the $26,400 requested to outfit patrol cars with video cameras is a “safety measure.” He said the sheriff’s office would buy older VHS cameras, but commissioners suggested the sheriff’s office use the same amount toward digital cameras and determine if there are matching funds available for such equipment. The older cameras cost about $1,200 per unit while the digital models can cost from $4,000 to $5,000 each.
Meredith said a $5,596 forensic-evidence drying cabinet is necessary in the age of DNA analysis. He said storing evidence in the second-floor attic isn’t acceptable.
Meredith said all slots for deputies are full, based on a hire that was made just this week. Meredith said he wouldn’t feel comfortable eliminating deputies’ positions because it would mean at least one shift of officers would be carrying a bigger burden.
Meredith said the sheriff’s office can apply for a grant from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program to fund the two interdiction officers’ slots. That grant, if approved, would pay 75 percent of those two salaries for the first year and half of the salaries the second year. But a decision on funding wouldn’t be known until spring of 2008, Meredith said. Thus, the funding impact wouldn’t apply until the 2008-2009 fiscal year.