Effingham County staff and Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie will pore over his office’s budget, after commissioners questioned the sheriff on the use of take-home cars and having a separate radio dispatch.
At a proposed $5.16 million, the sheriff’s office budget is the largest among the departments. And county commissioners asked Sheriff McDuffie about the need for his own dispatch unit and who can have take-home cars.
"There’s a couple of things in your budget we’re asking you to look at," Commissioner Steve Mason said to McDuffie on Tuesday evening. "We don’t understand the benefit of having dual communications centers. When I listen to the radio, I hear everything repeated twice. The other thing is the need for the cars to be driven out of the county and being used for personal use."
Mason said citizens have complained about what appears to be sheriff’s patrol cars, which are distinctive by their brown paint scheme.
"The citizens indicated to us they don’t like seeing the brown cars out of the county for personal use," Mason said. "If it’s in the county, it’s acceptable. But once it’s out of the county, I don’t see it as reasonable as being on-call."
McDuffie said he didn’t know off-hand how many deputies have take-home vehicles but said policy dictates that they do not use them for personal reasons.
"They’re only supposed to drive the car to their house and back to work — period," he said. "If they’re doing anything else with it, it’s a violation of our policy. If you let me know who it is, we’ll address it."
Mason said it’s been reported to him that an Effingham deputy’s car was seen on Tybee Island, and that the deputy with the car may have been using it to work a second job as security.
"They’re not supposed to be at Tybee Island," the sheriff said, "unless they’re in court."
Commissioner Reggie Loper pointed to the cost in gas for the take-home cars, and Mason said the patrol cars are the most expensive to operate. McDuffie said the sheriff’s office has had a take-home car policy for 25 years, and it serves several purposes.
"It’s a benefit for the guys, and it’s a safety issue," McDuffie said.
Deputies with take-home cars are able to respond to events quicker than having to go to the sheriff’s office first for a vehicle. The ECSO handled 75,000 calls last year, according to the sheriff.
Commissioners asked if the sheriff’s office and 911 dispatch units could be combined. But the 911 center isn’t Georgia Crime Information Center-certified, and the ECSO dispatch is the only GCIC unit operating 24 hours a day in the county, McDuffie said.
The sheriff’s office dispatch equipment has been provided by other sources, with Bryan County donating the radios and consoles funded through drug seizures.
"Our dispatchers only cost the county their salaries," McDuffie said.
He said that deputies having to go back and forth from the 911 center to pick up paperwork while taking an arrestee to the county jail also burns time and gas. Plus, someone would have to be hired to run the GCIC information and requests at night, if the dispatch and 911 operations were brought under one roof.
"When you add it all up, we really haven’t saved anything," he said.
The sheriff further has discussed other cost-saving measures — many lights in the administrative office are left off and the office is open four days a week. McDuffie said it was hard to figure how much is saved through those measures but added his office continues to look for ways to save money.
"We have been proactive in saving dollars," he said. "There are bulbs and lights out all over the place. We bring deputies for one hour to the office and shut the cars completely off to save gas.
"We’re doing things all the time," he told commissioners. "I wish you would come see what we do, instead of assuming what we do."
McDuffie said he queried the Georgia Sheriffs Association, asking the organization to see if any of the other members were doing something to save money.
"And more people are using the suggestions from Effingham County Sheriff’s Office than anywhere else," the sheriff said.
McDuffie asked for four extra deputies and another humane enforcement officer. In 2007, he gave up 11 positions in order to provide his deputies and staff with raises.
"The number of turnovers we’ve had is significantly different," said county finance director Joanna Wright.
Meanwhile, McDuffie told commissioners a new judicial complex has opened and the historic courthouse has been renovated and put to use, requiring the sheriff’s office to staff its front doors.
The sheriff also noted to commissioners that he took over the animal control office at their request.
"We haven’t added any deputies on the street in years," he said.
The ECSO will man a substation at the planned Goshen public safety complex, and Commissioner Phil Kieffer said more buildings also lead to more maintenance costs. County Administrator David Crawley said putting a sheriff’s substation there puts deputies closer to heavier traffic areas and more of the county’s population center.
"At Goshen, we can keep deputies on the south end, so they don’t have to keep coming back to Springfield," he said, "to help reduce some of the costs."