Tuesday, June 22, 2021

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Sheriff rides into budget discussion flush with mid-year additions to his force

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One of the highlight’s of the county’s budget retreat was a presentation from Alamance County’s sheriff Terry Johnson about the financial needs of the county’s law enforcement operations.

Johnson began his pitch to commissioners by expressing his gratitude for a mid-year allocation of funds that allowed him to hire nine additional deputies for his patrol division.
“You have met a lot of the sheriff’s office needs in the middle of a budget year, and I want to thank you for that,” the sheriff declared before he launched into the particulars of his request for agency’s operations.

This mid-year influx of new hires accounts for a large chunk of the $1.5 million that Johnson is seeking from the commissioners in addition to the $12.6 million that the original budget for this fiscal year had set aside for the sheriff’s operations.

Johnson also asked the commissioners to restore his usual allowance of 12 new patrol cruisers, which had been struck from this year’s original budget due to concerns about the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic on revenues. Although 12 additional patrol cars would cost the county some $436,368, the sheriff insisted that the new vehicles are imperative to ensure that his deputies aren’t going into the field in high-mileage clunkers.

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“We try to keep them as safe as possible,” he added, “but [it’s hard] with so many miles at the speeds that we have to go.”

Johnson also hit up the commissioners for “some sort of compensation for the employees” to discourage them from defecting to better paying jobs in other jurisdictions.

“We’re probably the lowest paid law enforcement agency in the county,” he professed, “and when we lose experience like we do, we can’t replace it.”

The sheriff went on to present the commissioners with a request for roughly $11.4 million to operate Alamance County’s jail – an increase of nearly $566,000 from the figure in this year’s original budget. This proposed increase accounts for the restoration of various outlays that were excised from this year’s budget before the fears about pandemic’s financial impact proved overblown.

Johnson also asked the commissioners to tack $325,000 onto the budget for his agency’s school resource officers to cover the cost of four more cops to patrol schools in his jurisdiction that don’t currently have their own dedicated officers. Johnson included these proposed new hires in his request at the behest of the Alamance-Burlington’s school system.

The sheriff’s request for these additional resource officers came up again during a subsequent presentation from Bruce Benson, the school system’s superintendent. Benson assured the commissioners that the four requested positions would provide at least one assigned officer for every school in the areas patrolled by the local sheriff’s department. The superintendent added, however, that the county still has 14 schools within its municipalities without their own dedicated officers – a state of affairs that seemed particularly distressful to school-board member-cum-county commissioner Pam Thompson.

“I just think it’s a crying shame that we discuss this same thing every year,” she told the rest of the county’s governing board. “You can’t put a price tag on safety.”

Thompson also put the sheriff on the spot about the manpower and resources that he has expended to guard the Confederate monument that stands at the northern approach to Alamance County’s historic courthouse. The county recently ponyed up $32,000 to install an eight-foot steel fence around the century-old landmark, which Thompson assumed will allow the sheriff to redeploy the deputies whom he had previously diverted to watch over the monument.

“Now that the fence has gone up, all the officers that were guarding the rock, where are they?” she inquired of Johnson. “You had $2 million out of your budget providing that security, and that will stop, won’t it?!”

“We had two officers who were guarding the monument for a very long time,” the sheriff went on to concede. “We will still have eyes on that monument until the commissioners or somebody says move it.”

Johnson hinted that the county manager’s office had helped him allocate personnel to provide additional security around the courthouse and manage protests in Court Square without creating gaps in his agency’s regular operations. Even so, commissioner Steve Carter noted that the installation of the fence was very much intended to free up deputies for other, more important duties.

“The intent was to reallocate funds and use them more effectively to serve and protect our citizens,” he insisted.

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