Sheriff confronts council with need for more funding – Coastal Observer


Sheriff confronts council with need for more funding

Sheriff Carter Weaver addresses the council from the stage during its workshop.

Georgetown County employees will get a minimum $1,500 pay raise this year, with public safety workers due to get at least $500 more.

Sworn officers in the sheriff’s office will get $4,000 regardless of whether County Council includes funds in the budget.

“I will do a $4,000 pay increase across the board and use fund balance,” Sheriff Carter Weaver told the council. “My fund balance.”

He took the stage at Howard Auditorium where the council had moved its meeting because of broken air conditioning in the council chambers, facing the seven members rather than looking up from the podium in the audience. Weaver had watched the clock tick down on a 90-minute budget workshop with presentations about stormwater fees and recap of financial data.

“It’s just very unfortunate that I will be in here for 20 minutes in the last budget workshop to talk about something as important as public safety,” Weaver said. “I would rather be openly de-funded as a law enforcement agency than to be patted on the back, smiled at; or people to stand in their community and say they’re for law and order, and not fund law enforcement. I’d rather be de-funded on the surface.”

The budget that received the second of  three readings this week calls for a 1.9 mill increase in the tax rate for the law enforcement fund. That is the maximum allowed under a state law that limits local governments from raising property taxes by more than the combination of the federal Consumer Price Index and local population growth. (A mill equals $1 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value.)

Weaver said the increase only covers the higher costs faced by his office. It doesn’t include the raises he said he needs to recruit and retain staff or funding for eight additional patrol deputies that he has sought for the past three years.

“There’s nothing extra. I’m just trying to keep my nose above water,” he said.

Council Chairman Louis Morant pointed out that public safety accounts for nearly 40 percent of the overall budget, and the $15.8 million law enforcement fund represents about 40 percent of that. The county is due to raise the tax rate for the general fund by 2 mills. It will also raise the tax rate for Midway Fire and Rescue and for the county’s rural fire district by 1 mill each.

“Tell us council members where we are going to get the additional funding unless we try to find a way to increase taxes even more,” Morant asked.

“I think it’s very simple,” Weaver said.

He proposed the council raise the tax rate for the general fund by another 2 mills, staying under the state’s annual cap, and shift that money to law enforcement. That would raise $1.2 million.

“That would be a start in making the law enforcement fund sustainable so the elected sheriff does not have to come in here every year and beg,” Weaver said.

Council Member Bob Anderson asked whether Weaver thought it had been a mistake to allocate a separate tax rate for the sheriff’s office, something done at the request of the former sheriff.

“The law enforcement fund should be separate because it makes me accountable,” Weaver said. But he added that without shifting millage he hasn’t been able to increase the number of patrol deputies since 2007.

Anderson said he wasn’t sure shifting millage was the right way to solve the problem.

“I can promise you, as the sheriff, the proper way to not do it is have me operate, and my staff operate, to 2007 standards,” Weaver said.

“Without doing a poll, I don’t know how that kind of tax increase would go over,” Anderson said.

“It’s called leadership, Mr. Anderson,” Weaver said. “It is hard decisions.”

“We make hard decisions based on data,” Anderson said.

“I gave you the data on Feb. 23,” Weaver said.

Anderson said he was looking for data about how citizens feel about a tax increase.

Some people in the rural areas are already struggling to pay their taxes, Council Member Raymond Newton said. He confirmed with Administrator Angela Christian that no county department got everything it asked for in the budget. That would have cost an extra $5 million to $8 million, she said.

Newton also noted that a tax increase for pay raises and hiring this year would carry over into future budgets.

“There are long-term issues. We can’t look at this in a bubble,” Christian said.

Council Member Everett Carolina promised “a serious hard look” at the issue. Anderson said he would get more information before voting for final approval.

Morant tapped the gavel and said it was time to wrap up and move into the regular council meeting.

Weaver said he would cover the $299,000 gap between the county pay plan and what he wants for officers from his reserves.

He admonished the council before he left the stage:

“If I’m operating at 2007 numbers and my calls for service have increased almost 50 percent, where in the world do you think I get those people from?”

He hit a small plastic table with his fist.

“I’ve been doing this for 37 years, and this is the third year that I’ve had to come up here with my hat in my hand and beg for nothing; just to maintain the status quo.”

People who had filed into the auditorium for the council meeting applauded. Weaver left the room and didn’t look back.



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