At the county commissioner's budget work session that took place last Thursday, Sheriff Robert Holland presented his department's budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
The Sheriff's Department had 13,337 emergency calls last year which translates to 37 calls each day, along with 13,740 walk-ins and 16,391 non-emergency calls for a total of 43,000 or 119 incidents a day.
One of the budget items Holland brought to the attention of the commissioners was a request for funding of updated SRT (Special Response Team) or SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) equipment to replace bullet proof vests and helmets for the officer's safety in conducting SWAT operations.
“Our equipment is like most things, it has a shelf-life,” he said. “The shelf-life on our equipment has been expired for several years now.”
Holland whittled the budgeted amount for these items by $10,800 at the request of County Manager Jack Horton. Originally budgeted at $22,800, he approached the board showing only $12,000.
“We need to point out that it’s not that we don't think this stuff is important, it's just that we have to look at ways that we can save where we can,” said Horton.
Commissioner Ronnie Beale pointed to the fact that the day before, the agency had been a key player in the bust of a drug ring in Macon County involving 24 individuals and that the SRT equipment had been used during the arrests.
“I'm making it my prerogative to secure the funding for this equipment,” said Beale. “This is a safety issue. I will be asking for the increase for these helmets and vests. I'm letting the board know that I won't be asking for a whole lot more, but I will ask for the money on this one.”
Sheriff Holland also requested funding for two additional School Resource Officers in the public schools in Macon County.
“We need them in more schools that two, but I'm also a realist and I don't want to come in here and ask for six or seven officers at one time,” he said. “A lot of people think of SROs as a security guard, but you know they work with the staff, they do classes.”
One SRO would be at Nantahala School and would also take calls outside of the school. The other officer would work at Union Academy and South Macon Elementary School.
“If we only get one position it will go to Union Academy and South Macon Elementary School,” said Holland. “I'm dead set on that. The day before the Newtown shooting, we had a call about a student at Union Academy. By the time we got there he had assaulted a teacher. These things are less likely to happen if there is an officer in the school to prevent it.” He also pointed out that when school is not in session, the Sheriff's Department will be gaining officers.
“Everybody knows that our population grows in the summer time, but our workforce does not,” said Holland. “We'll be able to utilize these officers in other ways.”
The board as a whole declined to discuss the negotiations of providing funds for the additional positions as requested, but Commissioner Ron Haven commented.
“I'm against the idea because of the cost,” he said. “If we can afford two then that is great, but I am certainly in agreement with one,” said Beale. “If you look at their presence over the years you can see that they have been effective. They make a difference, not just in the things that they prevent, but the things that those kids come to these officers and tell them things that they can't tell parents or other adults.”
Chairman Kevin Corbin pointed to other shortfalls in the county that could lead to the denial of the requested funds in tough economic times.
“I've been supportive of the SRO program from the beginning, but we've discussed before that if somebody wants to commit an act of violence then nothing is going to stop them. I just get the feeling that the schools may come to us needing money, too, and that's when you have to make hard decisions about what you're going to fund.”
The Board of Education met with commissioners Tuesday night to discuss their own budget shortfalls.
Additional information provided by Macon Media.