Councilman responds to Jasper Sheriff’s budget hopes in letter, calling Sheriff “juvenile”

Sheriff Jenkins wants to double his office's size in employees.

The eleventh murder investigation this year was launched by Jasper County Sheriff’s detectives on Wednesday morning, when the body of 23-year-old Keanu Damarius Mayes was found in the yard of an abandoned house on Crabapple Lane. Sheriff Greg Jenkins says crimes like these could be prevented, if his office doubled in size. He’s blamed Jasper County Council for lack of funding; on Wednesday, Councilman Marty Sauls responded in a letter.

Of the events leading to the body’s discovery on Wednesday morning, Jenkins said, “My officers were out last night. We had three locations where shots were being fired…and [then], they’re having to leave [some locations for others], which we don’t want to, and [then] go to another area, and low and behold there’s a murder…”

Jenkins remarked on how added staff could have manned certain areas where shots were fired better, but then says the budget for hiring more would have to come from county council. Jenkins tells NEWS 3 his office has not seen a budget increase to do so in some 20 years. However, County Council Vice Chairman Marty Sauls refutes this.

“Since 2011, the sheriff’s department budget has increased over $400,000,” Sauls says.

He submits a letter to citizens in response to Jenkins, calling Jenkins “juvenile” for turning to citizens and the media to blame council for lack of funding.

“I myself have been a victim about six months ago, of a theft, a robbery at my home. So, I’m especially concerned and want to make sure that he has his resource, but we want to make sure that we’re effective and efficient and the tax dollars are going to be spent effectively,” Sauls says.

Sauls says money has been given for four new vehicles, with only two bought. He adds that there are still two staff openings unfilled.

To this, Jenkins says, “You know, being very professional, very humble here, that still has nothing to do–we are full staffed. When we get full staffed, that still doesn’t fix the problem. We are constantly struggling with keeping officers, constantly.”

Jenkins says officers come and go because his office cannot competitively pay them. He says the vehicle money has nothing to do with that. He also would use double the staff, 41 more officers, to station three in each of the county’s 13 communities.

“That would give higher visibility. You would cut down on your crime, okay, and you would have it to where your response time would be zero to nothing,” Jenkins says.

Jenkins says right now, response times can be as long as an hour, depending on where the deputies who are called to respond are patrolling at the time.

Sauls says there are enough resources currently to station two officers in each of the 13 areas. He also encourages the Sheriff to come to the council, lay-out his plan on how the increased budget would be used, to ask for the budget increase.

Read the letter in full here:

A Response to Sheriff Jenkin’s recent statements in the press that he needs an additional 41 deputies: Let’s get serious about working together

According to a recent news report on WJCL, Sheriff Jenkins has announced that he needs to more than double the number of employees he supervises by adding an additional 41 deputies.

First, we need to make it very clear that the sheriff is an elected official who does not report to the county council or the county administrator. Second, we want to impress upon you that the county council alone has the awesome responsibility to set the sheriff’s budget allocation as we do with all departments. In doing so, we must find a balance in funding so many needs while being mindful of what the taxpayer is willing to pay. We take this job seriously and we have experience at it.

Secondly, you need to know that the sheriff made this announcement to a public that is frustrated over crime and has yet to fully explain in specific detail to council. Perhaps the strategy is to paint us as unwilling to fund what is necessary to address the increase in crime in Jasper County. Nothing could be further from the truth. We just think it’s a little juvenile to point the finger at us through the press when things get tough. We are here to help, but we recognize that there needs to be a serious, multi-jurisdictional effort to get it right.

We have made it a habit over the last several years to first evaluate efficiencies in county departments prior to considering increases in appropriations. A great example of this is the county’s recent effort to improve rural fire service. Initially, our emergency services division came to us and asked us to fund more positions and new vehicles to accomplish this task. We said no. Then we rolled up our sleeves and worked with staff to create a plan that accomplished the desired results for a price we could afford. Then we executed it. It wasn’t easy, but it worked.

The plan focused on rural fire fighting in the unincorporated portions of the county. It involved all three government entities (Jasper County, the Town of Ridgeland and the City of Hardeeville), resulted in contracting for fire services in certain areas, cost a total of $400,000 in equipment, did not include the hiring of additional employees, and resulted in improved fire safety and drastic reductions in ISO ratings for a significant portion of the county. We recognized that fire service was important to the residents and we responded accordingly.

We are prepared to address residents’ concerns over crime in the same organized and thoughtful manner. This will require a county-wide effort, sincere approach, and data. We have not seen that yet.

Jasper County and the municipalities of Ridgeland and Hardeeville collectively employ 75 sworn officers and spend a total of $6.5 million annually on law enforcement (figure does not include any grants awarded to Sheriff Department). Is that enough for a county with a total population of 27,170 and an unincorporated population of 18,305? We think it just might be.

And if it is not, we would like to learn why. And we need a better explanation than we just need more people. All other county departments provide us with monthly data about their operations. We do not receive anything from the sheriff’s office. Without data, we cannot discuss the issues intelligently, evaluate the effectiveness of services, discover trends, or benchmark performance to other jurisdictions.

Sheriff Jenkins is struggling and we want to help him. We simply can’t resolve why we would entertain being asked through the press to immediately fund 41 new deputies without any serious exploration of the crime issue from a county-wide perspective. Let’s not initially focus on more than doubling the money going to the sheriff’s office with no real plan of how to reduce crime other than just hiring additional deputies. Let’s do this right with the help of our partners in Ridgeland and Hardeeville and find a multi-jurisdictional, county-wide way to address crime more effectively and efficiently.

We did it with fire service and we stand ready to do it with law enforcement.

Points of interest

  • We hear that the Sheriff wants to more than double his force, yet he has existing vacancies
  • We hear that the Sheriff wants to place 2 new deputies in each of the county’s 13 neighborhoods which equals to 26 not 41
  • We hear that the Sheriff wants more money (about $4,050,000 would be required the first year) to add 41 positions yet he was under budget by $65,640 in FY 2014
  • We hear that the reason the Sheriff needs 41 additional positions is because the county has grown yet we know a vast majority of that growth has been located in the municipalities of Ridgeland and Hardeeville. Jasper County is 655 square miles in area. The municipalities have grown to encompass 110 of those square miles. Effectively, the Sheriff’s service area has been reduced significantly over the last decade from 651 square miles to 545 square miles.
  • 41 new deputies and vehicles would cost the county approximately $4 million the first year and then about $2 million dollars each year thereafter with increases along the way for salaries, retirement, and health insurance. That would require the county council to increase taxes by about 35 mils, the equivalent of about $210.00 annually for a $150,000 home. But even that example is too simplistic because most of the growth in population and the assessable value of the county is within the municipal boundaries of Ridgeland and Hardeeville—both areas already served by municipal police departments.
  • Until The Great Recession, the county was gladly spending over $300,000 a year leasing vehicles for the sheriff’s department. The lease program allowed the Sheriff to replace every single vehicle in his fleet every three years. We had to stop doing that when revenues declined, but we are slowly working back up to that point and hope to be able to get back into the same program soon. In the meantime, we added funds for 4 new vehicles in the Sheriff’s budget this year which began on July 1. To date, he has only purchased 2.
  • Since The Great Recession, we have had to be very careful not to grow our spending any greater than our revenues. Unfortunately, that means we were not able to give raises to any county employees for a number of years. Now that our local economy has improves and revenues are starting to get back on track, we have been in a position to authorize raises for deputies in FY 2012 and FY 2015. The most recent raises were based on longevity to reward service and experience at the same time adding money for new vehicles as well.LETTER 1LETTER 2

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