Two Bulloch County Sheriff’s deputies are expected to return Friday after a week-long paid trip to 4-H Camp at Rock Eagle in Putnam County in spite of overtime and staffing issues.
The deputies, who Bulloch County Chief Deputy Bill Black said would not be identified due to “security reasons,” were D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officers who accompanied Bulloch County 4-H students to Camp Rock Eagle to continue “mentoring” of D.A.R.E. and G.R.E.A.T (Gang Resistance Education and Training) students, he said.
The deputies are remaining with the students all week at camp and each will receive payment of $1,186.60, including overtime, for that week.
Black said Sgt. Jimmy Billings told him “the reason the … deputies go is that most of these kids are currently taking either D.A.R.E. or G.R.E.A.T. classes. They go to continue the mentoring process involved with those programs as well as keeping them safe.”
The Statesboro Herald submitted an open records request for the deputies’ identities, but Black said he would identify them after they returned Friday, which is in compliance with the law requiring response to records requests be made within three days. Reasons for not revealing identities is to protect the deputies and their families from people knowing they were away from home this week, Black said.
“Both deputies are paid $16.95 an hour,” he said. “We anticipate they will work approximately 17 hours a day based on past experience. They will be paid for a maximum of 12 hours a day. They will be gone for a week for an anticipated total of 60 hours. They will be paid from the regular sheriff personnel budget.”
With 40 hours straight time and 20 overtime hours, the total amount the two deputies will be paid is $2,373.20
Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown did not return several calls this week to his office and cell phone, or messages sent by e-mail, seeking comment on the matter. However, Capt. Todd Hutchens confirmed that this year is not the first time deputies have accompanied 4H students to the camp.
According to an employee at the Bulloch County Extension office, the 4-H program allows adults to volunteer to attend the camp as chaperones, but these adults are not paid and the sheriff’s office is not reimbursed for the deputies who attend. The 4-H program did not request deputy escorts for the week long camp.
Evans County Sheriff Randall Tippins, Screven County Sheriff Mike Kile, Candler County Sheriff John Miles and Jenkins County Sheriff Robert Oglesby all told the Statesboro Herald they have never sent deputies to accompany students to 4H camp.
As the county prepares to approve the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, Bulloch County Commission Chairman Roy Thompson commented on the deputies being paid to attend the camp.
“The sheriff is a constitutional officer that actually makes his own decisions for the department,” he said. “If he deemed it necessary and it is within his budget to send two deputies for extra protection for these children, that would be left up to his discretion.”
Comments on the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Foundation page included several posts by parents and citizens praising the decision.
Overtime, staff deficits
Since the sheriff’s department would not immediately release the deputies’ identities, it is not known how much each of them have already garnered in overtime pay for fiscal year 2019, which ends June 30.
As of June 1, the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office exceeded budgeted overtime pay by $14,108, which will increase by the time June 30 arrives, according to records from the Bulloch County Commissioner’s Office.
The sheriff’s office was budgeted $1,160,884 in total department-wide overtime for FY 2019, but as of June 1 had already paid out $1,174,992 in overtime.
When Brown ran for office in 2016, he promised to address the overtime issue, which was a problem even before he took office.
During his campaign speeches, he said he would try to reduce overtime by adding deputies and switching captains and the chief deputy to salaries instead of hourly wages. He also said he would like to see compensation time used instead of overtime.
Bulloch County has added a few deputies each year, but Brown has said he is still understaffed. In 2018 he asked for an overtime increase. According to reports in the Herald in June 2018, he gave reasons for the need for more overtime funds.
Prosecutors demand “more details and thorough investigations” from investigators; road patrol deputies are taxed with transporting federal prisoners (two must accompany inmates and are often off-duty deputies getting overtime); there are understaffing issues, and critical incidents such as hurricanes that demand overtime, he said.
In an article in July 2018, Bulloch County Commissioners and Brown discussed overtime.
At that time, Brown said overtime is necessary to provide for the needs of a growing county. Bulloch County commissioners questioned whether Brown could cut overtime spending in order to fund new hires.
Brown countered by saying he cannot cut overtime without having more deputies to handle the citizens’ needs.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at 912-489-9414.