Monday, June 17, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Sheriff should stick to his job; he’s not an expert on budgets or taxes

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We continue to believe that sheriff Terry Johnson is one of the most competent and effective law enforcement officers anywhere in the state.

His commitment to creative, cutting-edge technology and law enforcement methods has made him a leader for many years.

But as highly as we think of the sheriff’s command of his job and his oversight of law enforcement across the county, we’d have to temper our praise by saying he’s no expert on budgets and spending  – at least not beyond his own domain.

And, in particular, his call this week for a higher county tax rate is both inappropriate and misplaced – and largely irrelevant to the problems he faces in his department.

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If the sheriff thinks the county manager, or the commissioners, aren’t providing him with enough resources (this year or any year), he should certainly make his plea for more support – and finances, if necessary.

But his desire for more is not a justification, in and of itself, for increasing property taxes.

The county manager and county commissioners have already hiked his department’s salaries repeatedly over the past few years in an attempt to improve his department’s recruitment and retention efforts – particularly in the jail, where he has seen a persistent vacancy problem.

His agency’s budget, in particular his payroll, has increased dramatically – and it may be that some further additions are called for and necessary to continue addressing the very real staffing shortages he faces.

But the sheriff, expert as he is in his own agency’s operations, is neither an expert nor even particularly objective or insightful regarding the operations of other areas of county government.

Unfortunately, the county’s bureaucrats have taken advantage of his repeated requests for more personnel funding as a pretext to hike salaries in other departments – including those where there is no problem with staff.   

The sheriff’s department (which comprises deputies, the jail, and SROs) is a significant part of county government, but still makes up only about 17 percent of annual expenditures.

The sheriff’s wholesale endorsement of unlimited tax hikes in order to address such a relatively small percentage of the overall budget is very much misguided.

The school system consumes the largest percentage of the budget, about one-quarter, and that doesn’t include another significant portion that goes to paying off the interest on $150 million in bond projects that the voters approved in 2018.

In fact, almost 10 percent of the budget goes toward these payments on previously-financed capital projects, which the county has bankrolled on behalf of the school system and ACC.

Other bailiwicks with significant expenditures includes social services (which consumes almost 10 percent of the budget) and the health department (almost 5 percent).

The point is there are lots of places in county government that could and should be examined more closely.

What needs to occur is a more intense prioritization of which departments need, or deserve, more funding.

But just because the sheriff might have legitimate needs for his department, it does not justify an across-the-board tax increase to cover more spending, or continue questionable programs, in other departments.

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