Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown, who successfully campaigned for his office on a platform in 2016 that included finding ways to reduce overtime, now seeks more overtime funding for the department.
“Give me time,” Brown said Friday. “I inherited this.”
Being understaffed, he said, leads to necessary overtime, adding he has a plan to reduce the amount of overtime, but the first step is yet to come.
One idea he hopes to put into place is switching some employees (captains and the chief deputy) to straight salaries “and making them leave at 5 o’clock.”
Bulloch County Commissioners approved a budget Wednesday of more than $40 million, and 43 percent of that is earmarked for public safety.
Of that 43 percent, well over half goes to the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Jail (26 percent), Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office (25 percent) and its various departments.
Of the sheriff’s office and jail slice of the pie, the criminal investigations division gets 3 percent and crime suppression gets 5 percent. Court services, also under the sheriff’s oversight, gets 6 percent.
Documented by a budget memorandum to commissioners, Brown asked for money to fund daily operations, as well as new programs and initiatives, more deputies and a jail expansion. New programs include a video visitation system he said would decrease need for security during visitation (in-house visitation is still available) and 24-hour inmate medical services.
That budget request also seeks funding for more overtime for criminal investigations and road patrol deputies.
During Fiscal year 2016 (Brown took office January 1, 2017), sheriff’s office and jail overtime was $657,910. In Fiscal Year 2017, it was reduced to $593,871, and in Fiscal Year 2018, the overtime rose to $627,955.
For Fiscal Year 2019, the amount budgeted for overtime for jail and sheriff’s office employees is $526,204.
In the memo to Bulloch County Commissioners, Brown said he asked for additional overtime for several reasons.
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 has also requested a drastic increase in travel expenses, up from $25,000 in 2018 to $45,000 in Fiscal Year 2019, citing additional mandated training as the reason.
When Brown ran for the sheriff’s seat in 2016, he said in several interviews and public forums that decreasing overtime was one of his main goals. However, he acknowledged, it hasn’t happened yet.
During his campaign, he referred to switching some employees to straight salaries. In a debate forum in October 2016, when asked how he would handle the need for more deputies and to reduce overtime, Brown said he would like to see higher-ranked officers paid on salary and sent home with compensation time instead of overtime. He said he would work with county officials to achieve these goals.
“It’s going to take a while and be a process,” he said.
Bulloch County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Bill Black said the plan is in motion.
“He is putting us on salary. They did a pay study that recommended doing this.”
Brown said he has asked for additional deputies but said there will always be overtime.
“I can never promise you we will not have overtime for a street-level deputy,” he said Friday.
Black said overtime is necessary when people are “out sick, in training, on leave or vacation. We can’t let a shift drop below four per shift.” A regular shift is five or six deputies.
According to overtime records secured from the Bulloch County Commissioner’s office by a Freedom of Information Act request, many employees who accrued the most overtime hours in 2017 are not salaried, but paid by the hour. Some of the employees making the most overtime are not even deputies, but work in the office.
One investigator drew 198 hours overtime ($7,189); an office worker garnered 202 overtime hours ($5,237) and another administrative employee worked 207 hours overtime ($4,423).
A transport officer worked 286 overtime hours ($6,471); a jail employee clocked 230 overtime hours ($4,341) and another at 274 hours ($5,318).
Travel, phones, more money
The number of calls for service has increased from 23,119 in Fiscal Year 2016 to 34,976 in Fiscal Year 2018. The number of cases cleared by arrest rose as well – from 596 to 788.
But incident reports were significantly less, a fact that Brown credits to the Statesboro Police Department and Georgia Southern University Police Department “pulling out” from the Crime Suppression Team, which once operated as a unit with officers from all three agencies. Arrests and incidents from the CST were recorded as Bulloch County Sheriff’s office actions.
The CST remains as an active unit, but those deputies are involved in assisting road patrol and in other areas, which attributes to overtime as well, he said Friday.
During Fiscal Year 2016, when the unit included Statesboro and GSU police, there were 587 drug-related arrests.
In 2018, that number dropped drastically to 182 drug-related arrests in 2017 and 204 drug-related arrests in 2018. However, CST overtime rose from $141,494 in 2016 to a projected $145,000 in 2018. The Fiscal Year 2019 budget only approves $135,000 in overtime for the Crime Suppression Team.
Brown also expects major increases in telecommunications and travel expenses.
A new phone service called “Tango Tango” allows deputies to use cell phones to communicate by radio and enables them to be reachable in areas where radio service does not work well, he said.
Telephone costs for the sheriff’s office in 2016 were $30,415. They rose to $32,909 in 2017, and are projected to be $40,000 in Fiscal year 2018. Brown seeks $54,000 for the Fiscal year 2019 for telephone services. Stating the “Tango Tango” system increases safety for the public, as well as deputies.
Regarding travel expenses, Brown blamed mandated training and the lack of adequate training facilities locally.
“When they get the new training building (proposed to be built with donated funds, not taxes), we hope it will change things,” he said.
The Fiscal Year 2019 travel budget nearly doubles last year’s expenses. In 2016, only $14,331 was spent on travel for the sheriff’s department. The expenses more than doubled in Fiscal Year 2017 but went down in 2018 ($25,000). Brown expects $45,000 in travel expenses in the upcoming year.
Aside from travel education and training, expenses increased from $2,987 in 2016 to $5,000 this year, with that amount budgeted again in 2019.
“We have more people going to training.” Again, when a proposed local training center is built, it is expected to alleviate some travel expenses, he said.
One of the largest anticipated expenditures for the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office and Jail is expansion, although data shows a decrease in jail population.
In a yet-to-be established plan, county officials may close the Bulloch County Correctional Institute and use the space for low-risk county offenders.
Brown spoke of his dream Friday to have a facility with more room for mentally ill or sick inmates; a medical bay and other needs. But when asked about declining numbers of inmates since 2016, he said an increase in arrests is coming.
“It’s going to go up,” he said. “You know it’s coming. It might look weird on paper.”
Jail overtime exists because “we don’t have enough jailers per inmate,” he said.
Between Fiscal years 2016 and 2018, the daily average of inmates fell from 433 to 410. Daily bookings went from 14 to 10. Total annual bookings were 5,487 in 2016 and 4,014 in 2018.
The jail has 53 employees, and in 2016, $246,417 was paid out in jail overtime.
In 2017, it rose to $279,912 and in 2018 jail employees will have accrued a projected $380,000. Bulloch County Commissioners only budgeted $255,000 for Fiscal year 2019.
Brown couldn’t give reasons for increased jail overtime except that the jail is understaffed.
Black pointed out that more room is needed for flex space – as in when several co-defendants in a case cannot be housed together.
“We have to be able to shift people around,” he said.
As it is, there are 466 beds, but sometimes inmates outnumber cell space and some inmates sleep in common areas on cots, he said. That is “unsecure and unsafe.”
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.