September 27, 2006
The Richmond County Sheriff's Office is already hurting from a deputy shortage, and things could get worse if the city administrator's plan to cut 25 officers goes through.
The sheriff meets with commissioners tomorrow to argue his case. Today, he spoke with News 12.
The sheriff's office is one of the largest city departments, but the sheriff says that doesn't mean they can afford to be cut again.
In fact, tomorrow, he'll ask for even more funding.
"We're strapped," Sheriff Ronnie Strength told News 12. "We can't keep our heads above water. "
Sheriff Strength plans to not only ask that his department be spared from the cuts, but also for funding for additional officers.
"I don't think I have to do a lot of talking," he said. "I think our commissioners are aware of what's going on as much as crime."
But the city administrator's proposal as it stands calls for cutting 25 officers and half a million dollars from the sheriff's total operating budget.
"You need more police on the street patrolling the area," says south Augusta resident Virginia Turnbull. "I was out in South Augusta, which is a very bad area now, and I saw one police."
News 12 saw eleven empty patrol cars in the parking lot, but there are three times that number of officers already off of the streets in Richmond County, due to budget cuts back in 1997. The sheriff says he can't afford that type of cut again.
And with a department already 34 deputies short --6 investigators and 25 jailers--more cuts could mean more trouble.
"We've got more folks in jail with less jailers guarding them, therefore we have more inmate fights in the jail, we have more fights involving officers and inmates," Sheriff Strength said.
The sheriff says if there is anything that can be cut, it will be some of the training.
While the sheriff does plan to ask for more officers tomorrow, he says he knows he may have trouble filling the positions because of the low pay.
This time last year, Sheriff Strength was faced with the same thing, and managed to get his deputies a raise.
Richmond County deputies got an eight percent pay increase around the beginning of November last year.
Commissioners were responding to the deputy shortage.
But then commissioners gave the same eight percent raise to firefighters, and then to all 2700 city employees.
That extra expense has contributed in part to the city's budget shortfall.