DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – After the second of three scheduled public hearings Thursday, the Dawson County Board of Commissioners and first-term Sheriff Jeff Johnson remain at odds over the sheriff’s 2018 budget request.
Johnson’s request to provide services that include the jail, K-9, school resource officers, 911 and court is $8,130,477. The sheriff’s budget in 2017 is $6,822,566. Commissioners have proposed $7,344,486, an increase of about half a million dollars but nowhere near what is being requested.
Johnson says, “That amount is inadequate. The amount budgeted last year wasn’t insufficient then. We’re just trying to increase it by a reasonable amount and not be excessive in order to meet what the needs are.”
He also points to the tremendous growth in retail and residential, especially along the Ga. 400 corridor that will place greater demands on his office. “We’re anticipating a 28 percent increase in the amount of calls we will respond to in 2018,” he said.
The sheriff’s request includes the unfreezing of seven employee positions, one new criminal investigator and a 2 percent cost of living increase for sheriff’s office employees.
Johnson and attorney Joey Homans have asked to meet with commissioners again before the budget is scheduled to be adopted on Sept. 21 to plead their case. As of Friday morning, Johnson said commissioners had not responded to that request.
County officials will point to a Georgia Department of Community Affairs survey that shows Dawson County citizens already pay more to operate the sheriff’s office and jail than any other county in north Georgia. In the 26 counties surveyed, Dawson County citizens pay $273 each, followed by Rabun County where citizens pay $210 each. Nowhere else do citizens pay as much as $200 each.
Johnson says that is an apples to oranges comparison.
“We’re the only law enforcement provider here,” he said. “There is no city police. No other law enforcement entity whatsoever. In all those other counties there is some sort of jurisdiction to help them out.”
But commissioners say that a $1.3 million increase is more than citizens should have to bear.
While next year’s millage will remain the same, homeowners will still see a 4.4 percent increase in their taxes next year.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the sheriff and the men and women of our sheriff’s office,” Commissioner Julie Hughes-Nix said. ”It gave me great pleasure to vote for the wage and salary study that provided a well-deserved pay increase for them this year. But we have to be fair to our citizens and do our best to hold the line on spending. The sheriff is asking for an increase of more than $1 million in last year’s budget. I just don’t think we can spend that much more and be fair to the taxpayers.”
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