Despite efforts to reduce costs, the overtime totals for all departments of the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office more than doubled last year to more than $1 million.
Sheriff Noel Brown said pay increases, continued short staffing and a high volume of transportation calls are contributing factors, as well as his opinion that the county has not had adequate staff to keep up with growth in the past 20 years.
Bulloch County commissioners have added three positions since Brown took office, he said; two more were added for fiscal year 2020, bringing the total to five. Brown also switched captains and higher-ranking officers to straight salary pay, thus eliminating some overtime, effective this past January.
Still, the total overtime for all departments under the Sheriff's Office umbrella went from $627,955 in FY 2018 to $1,281,647 in FY 2019, according to county records.
Commissioners have outlined plans to phase in positions each year in an effort to shore up the sheriff's staff, and suggested reducing overtime could help fund more employees. Brown countered by saying he "can't shut down" a 24/7 operation and when employees are out due to sickness, emergencies, vacation and training. Others must work in their stead, often meaning overtime hours, he said.
During his campaign prior to the 2016 election, Brown promised to try to reduce overtime for the sheriff's department, but three years into his term, he has been unable to make a significant dent in spite of some changes.
Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch acknowledged the need for some overtime to ensure services are provided.
"Any time there is a 24-hour service, overtime is inevitable," he said. "People accrue sick leave, vacation, other leave. You have to bring people in (to cover the shift)."
Couch suggested Brown could use more part-time employees to cover the shortages and said school resource officers, or SROs, performing patrol and other duties when school is out could be an asset to relieving some overtime. SROs are partially funded by the Bulloch County Board of Education.
Huge overtime amounts
As of FY 2020, which began in July, Brown had 132 employees. According to county records, 20 of those employees garnered more than $15,000 each in overtime alone last year, with several making more than $20,000 each in overtime, added to their regular pay.
Records also showed that several employees doubled the amount of overtime pay in one year, comparing 2018 to 2019 totals.
Brown said pay rate increases contributed to the increased amounts.
"As your figures are in total dollar amounts, please take into account the raise to minimums recommended by (a county-approved) pay study were included in this previous fiscal year," he said. "The base pay went up for a lot of our deputies, in some cases substantially, which means that the overtime rate will actually be higher."
The overtime rate for a deputy making "$16.95 per hour at time and a half is going to be more than $14 per hour at time and a half," he said. "This would mean a higher total amount of overtime dollars, even if there were a zero increase in actual hours worked."
The employee making the highest amount of overtime on FY 2019 was transport supervisor Sgt. Corey Akins ($25,797). Investigator Marcus Nesmith followed at $24,890, which more than doubles his $11,363 overtime in FY 2018. However, Nesmith worked part time on a federal task force in 2018 but returned full time to the BCSO Crime Suppression Team in 2019. He is a certified internal affairs investigator and firearms instructor.
Investigator Prethenia Cone made $23,531 in overtime in 2019; Sgt. Tracy Miller made $23,773; and Investigator Walter Deal received $23,110, more than twice the $11,109 overtime in he made in 2018.
Sgt. Jimmy Billings, community relations and SRO coordinator, was listed at $22,202 in overtime pay ($9,624 in 2018); Investigator Mark Guarino made $21,882 in 2019 overtime; and Cpl. Waymon "Maurice" Lester, civil/warrants and transport, also almost doubled his overtime ($21,587 in 2019, increased from $11,057 the year before.)
Maintenance chief Andrew Nay also saw a significant increase, earning $12,083 in overtime in 2018 but $21,552 in 2019. Court Services Sgt. Randall Weyer garnered $21,375 in 2019 overtime, and Investigator Jim Riggs made $20,599 in overtime.
The following also collected more than $15,000 each in overtime, added to their regular pay in 2019: patrol shift supervisor Cpl. Morgan Jones ($18,438); communications/dispatch supervisor Cpl. Greg Collins (almost tripling his overtime from $6,312 to $18,053); Investigator Ryan Norton ($17,314); motor unit Lt. Bobby Durden ($18,212); transport deputy James Bruner ($16,395); Deputy Doug Harrell ($16,151); Deputy Ignacio Juarez ($15,314); Investigator Jason Borne ($15,205); and office administrator Jeanie "Tara" Stone (doubled overtime pay from $8,746 in 2018 to $16,395 in 2019).
Other employees also showed significant increases in overtime pay from 2018 to 2019, some more than doubled: office administrator Bobbie Beckum, civil/warrant administrative specialist Aneisha Hill, jail Cpl. Donte Lavant, court services Cpl. Cleve White, jail Cpl. Sissy Carter, and office administrator Terry Harville.
No more OT
Overtime for Chief Deputy Bill Black, Capt. Todd Hutchens, Capt. Keith Stone and others of higher ranks were cut in half for FY 2019 due to Brown's switching them to salary. However, along with that move, duties formerly handled by captains and above were assigned to other employees, which could have contributed to increased overtime, he said.
"Captains and above now receive zero overtime," Brown said. "This will help the overtime issue some, but some of the tasks that were being performed by the captains were delegated to lower-ranking personnel, who may have to work additional overtime."
But Couch echoes the county's concerns regarding the drastic increase.
"If overtime is over 15 percent of a salary, you have a problem," he said.
Could the extra duties be redistributed to part-time workers, who may not reach overtime hours? Maybe, he said.
Looking at the fact that the same employees seem to get the most overtime year after year, Couch suggested that possibly they are the ones willing and able to work the extra hours.
"Some may not be able to take overtime due to other jobs or they can't come in for various reasons," he said.
Out of most other county departments, only a few rack up heavy overtime.
"EMS can crank some overtime, but they also use a lot of part-time employees," he said.
EMS is also a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week service that cannot be cut without reducing service to residents.
When asked about the overtime issue, he said, "I can't answer why (sheriff's overtime) is doubled — it is up to the Sheriff's Office to be transparent about overtime."
Many people do not realize the volume of work Sheriff's Office employees handle, Brown said.
While the jail and courts divisions were both over budget in 2019, the other departments — Crime Suppression Team, criminal investigations and office/administration — were under budget, he said. Jail costs were driven up by medical costs and necessary overtime.
"Our jail and court divisions were over budget, with jail overages mainly due to inmate medical costs and the court budget overages being driven mainly by overtime generated by transports," he said.
"Keep in mind we have a jail facility that must be operated 24/7. We have certain positions and fixed posts in the jail that must be manned continuously," he said. "When someone calls in sick or is out for military duty or training, we can't shut down the jail. We have to call someone in extra to work."
Court division expenses skyrocketed due to transportation demands. Chief Deputy Bill Black provided the Statesboro Herald with records showing a large amount of prisoner transport calls, many of which required multiple long-distance trips back and forth with inmates who are often brought back for repeated court appearances, he said.
A significant number of the transports are also mental health escorts to medical facilities.
The Court Services division is "one of our biggest drains on the overtime budget," Brown said. "If a Superior Court judge orders us to have an inmate in court on a certain date, it's not optional. It doesn't matter if the prisoner is located in a prison above Atlanta or in another state. Transporting mental health patients upon the order of judge or physician is not optional either. Georgia law mandates that we do that."
The whopping overtime bill and increasing sheriff's budget is a significant hit to a county trying to avoid tax increases, Couch said. He, commissioners and Brown have met several times to discuss the issue.
"There are a lot of different factors (causing overtime and over-budget issues), but unless a sheriff is transparent, we don't know (all) the reasons," he said.
The sheriff's budget "grows every year, but they always go over budget," he said, referring to the entire sheriff's budget as a whole.
When the sheriff asks for things, commissioners are obligated to provide, regardless of whether the demands are within budget or whether the expense may result in tax increases, according to Couch. There are ways to dispute the demands, but "a legal battle to keep a sheriff under budget would not be worth the expense," he said. "We can't make a constitutional officer" stay under budget.
When asked about ways to trim overtime, such as reducing non-essential trips and duties such as escorts and public relations events, Brown said he approves those expenses in order to please the public.
Referring to a recent trip to a 4-H camp where two deputies escorted students for a week, as well as funeral escorts for military veterans, the sheriff said citizens support the extra costs to taxpayers.
"Ultimately it is up to my boss, the citizens of this county, as to whether our deputies provided these services or not," he said. "I can assure you there is overwhelming support from Bulloch County residents for us to perform these duties. Most people I talk to think it is a worthwhile use of their tax dollars to provide deputies at events in which our children are in attendance."
Two deputies accompanied Bulloch County students on a recent trip to Rock Eagle. Sheriff's offices in surrounding counties said they did not and have never felt a need to send deputies on the annual 4-H trip, although sometimes deputies volunteered and were not paid by their respective counties.
Brown said out-of-town memorial rides or funeral escorts also reflect residents' wishes.
"When we do receive commentary on a funeral escort, it is usually a thank you or people asking me to please not discontinue," he said.
Overtime cannot be reduced until his staff is shored up significantly, according to Brown.
"As I've stated numerous times, I cannot significantly cut overtime until I receive enough people to operate safely," he said. "The Bulloch County Sheriff's Office has not added sufficient personnel to keep up with the growth of our county since the late 1980s. We pretty much have been lagging behind since then. I cannot shut down a public safety agency to save overtime in hope that I will get additional deputies in the next budget."
Three of the five positions added since his election have been school resource officers, he said.
"I am glad we got the SROs, but this does not help with the increased workload throughout the Sheriff's Office."
However, as Couch suggested, the SROs can and are used as regular deputies when school is out. Aside from the 180 days they are at school functions, they can help alleviate staff shortages for the other 185 days a year, he said.
But crime and demands have also increased dramatically, Brown said.
"Our call volume has risen significantly, and our jail population is continuing to grow," he said. And, more duties have been added.
"Keep in mind we now have a full-time Juvenile Court," Brown said. "This means additional courtroom security. This will drastically increase the number of transports we will have to make, because juvenile prisoners must be held in juvenile facilities, which are all located outside of Bulloch County. In addition, this will also increase the number of subpoenas, which will increase the workload for our civil division."
He hopes the county can find a way to increase the number of sheriff's employees so he can reduce overtime costs, he said.
"I would be glad to present a plan for an increase in personnel that would allow me to significantly reduce overtime. However, this would require a large number of new positions," he said.
"We've only gotten five positions in a three-year period, and I'm talking about a ballpark number of maybe 50 new positions needed at an absolute minimum. Many agencies with a comparable population and land area have more employees than we do. For example, the Effingham County Sheriff's Office has 158 employees."
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.