DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Both parties in the Sheriff vs. Dawson County Board of Commissioners Battle of the Budget agree on one thing: The court has no authority to decide what amount of money is sufficient for Sheriff Jeff Johnson to carry out his sworn duties.
Johnson’s attorney Joey Homans petitioned the court to order the county to approve a budget sufficient to allow that to occur. The sheriff proposed an all-in 2018 budget of $9,564,324. The board approved $9,173,080, which commissioners say is an increase on nearly $1 million over the previous year.
Homans has accused the Board of “abuse of discretion” in cutting the sheriff’s proposed budget. Commissioners say a $1 million increase hardly constitutes abuse.
During two days of testimony last week, Homans clearly established the sheriff’s office is understaffed. Division head after division head testified their employees cannot get the proper training due to a lack of personnel and that paid leave and overtime pay are also a problem.
What is not so clear is who is to blame for the staffing problem.
The sheriff contends those issues could have been resolved if the Board had approved the budget he proposed. Commissioners argue the sizeable increase they approved should be enough.
There are currently nine positions in the sheriff’s office that are frozen. However, as a duly elected Constitutional officer, Johnson has the authority to fill those positions, frozen or not. He also has the flexibility to move some money from his line items to help fund the positions.
So what happens next?
The judge gave the two parties until Feb. 15 to come to an agreement. If they cannot resolve their differences, he will issue a ruling.
If he decides the approved budget is sufficient, the sheriff can appeal. If he rules it insufficient, the Board still has the authority to approve the budget with no direction from the court. If the sheriff still does not agree, he could return to court.
Another trip to court would damage the relationship between the county and the sheriff, which is already strained almost to the breaking point. It would also be very expensive for taxpayers.
Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com