DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — Dawson County’s new Board of Commissioners Chairman brings a very specific set of goals to his new job and if past success is a barometer, Billy Thurmond can be expected to achieve them.
Thurmond, who will preside over his first county commission meeting on Thursday, served the county’s Emergency Management Agency for 37 years.
In 2000, the agency was recognized as Georgia’s EMA of the Year. In 2011, he received the governor’s Public Safety Award for contributions to his profession and in 2012 was named EMA Director of the Year.
His goals as chairman: To make the county government more productive and cost efficient, to halt the costly migration of county employees to other counties and to improve communication with citizens.
“We’ve got to get to the point where we are more competitive in the job market,” he said Thursday. It costs a lot of money to replace employees.”
About 300 county employees have left Dawson County for higher paying jobs in the last six years.
“If you look at the number of people we have lost in those years, it costs millions of dollars to train their replacements. The Sheriff’s Office lost 80-90 people during that time span and the Fire Department lost 40-50. Those jobs are hard to fill if you’re not competitive in the job market.”
Being competitive, of course, means salary increases, something that causes taxpayers to flinch.
But as Thurmond points out, “The upfront cost will be a little higher than most people want to pay, but you will save money in the long run.”
Thurmond said former Sheriff Billy Carlisle once told him it cost about $8,000 to hire a replacement for a deputy who leaves to take the same job in Hall or Forsyth counties where the pay is higher. Replacing the 90 or so deputies who have left in the last six years cost taxpayers about $720,000.
“He had to hire somebody off the street with little or no training, send them to school for 11 weeks to get trained and have them ride with somebody for another month,” Thurmond said. That meant the Sheriff’s Office had to replace an experienced law enforcement officer with an inexperienced one at a cost of $8,000 each.
Thurmond said improved communication with citizens is another top priority.
“One of the biggest things I learned during my campaign is that citizens want more information coming from county government and I want to give it to them. When they see there has been so much money spent on salaries or equipment, they want an explanation as to why. If the county commission executes a contract of an intergovernmental agreement (IGA), I would like to see the contract or agreement on our website the next day so citizens can review it.”
He also said there needs to be more details on commission meetings provided to the public. “If you attend a regular meeting, you really don’t know what is being voted on unless you attended the work session too,” he said.
Thurmond said, generally speaking, the county is in good shape.
“We don’t have a lot of debt, so that is good,” he said. “We’re getting a good bit of new business along the Ga. 400 cooridor and hopefully that will generate a lot more sales tax and give us an opportunity to roll back property taxes.”
Thurmond and Commissioner Chris Haynes will begin their first terms on the Board of Commissioners Thursday.