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Sheriff makes plea for manpower

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By Jenny Hartley

For what will likely be the last time in his law enforcement career, Sheriff Johnny Cauthen asked County Council for more money for his department.

Cauthen, who isn't seeking re-election this year, didn't have a dollar figure for council members, but asked for 16 more deputies for the sheriff's office in the 2008-09 budget. Four of those would go to Indian Land. The others would assist with court duties.

"We're not asking for any fluff," Cauthen said. "We're asking for what we need."

One of Cauthen's biggest concerns is the growth in Indian Land.

Federal guidelines call for one patrol officer per 1,000 people in a rural area, and two per 1,000 in urban areas, which he considers Indian Land. The county's population is estimated at 73,000.

"The more people you have, the more crime you have," Cauthen said. "From Highway 5 north is a city, and I don't have the manpower to patrol it."

Grant money isn't available like it used to be, Cauthen said.

The State Law Enforcement Division has cut down on services it provides to the counties, and those duties are then dumped on county sheriff's offices.

Cauthen also asked for five more officers for the detention center, plus one transport officer for court and a van driver for the inmates who work with the county's public works department.

"The detention center – that's an accident waiting to happen," Cauthen said. The detention center, which has a capacity of 121, has been averaging 168 prisoners a day, said jail administrator Debbie Horne. The jail has recently been cited by the state for its overcrowding issues.

"The need for law enforcement is certainly there," Councilman Bryan Vaughn said.

He suggested using overages in building permit revenue once designated for road improvements to be used to hire more officers, even if it ends up being less than the 16 officers that Cauthen requested.

County Administrator Steve Willis said it costs about $77,000 to hire a new deputy. That includes salary and benefits, plus the one-time costs of buying the basic uniform, patrol car and other equipment for a new deputy.

At the end of the budget discussion, Councilman Larry Honeycutt asked Willis whether it looked like the county would be able to fund some outside agencies, such as Learning Institute for Tomorrow, Southside Adult Family Literacy, Lancaster County Council of the Arts and others.

Willis said a law that would have affected assessment values on homes did not pass in the state Legislature. The law had county staff budgeting conservatively, but now it looks like the county will have a little more funding to fund those agencies.

"I think we're in pretty good shape," Willis said.

Councilman Wayne Kersey said he'd like to see some big ticket items cut and not to plan for a large pay increase for employees, if that could help fund these agencies, which help the poor.

Kersey also said he would like for the council to have one more work session before third and final reading of the budget is considered on June 30.

Second reading passed 4-2, with Councilman Fred Thomas and Kersey voting against it. Vaughn left the meeting before the vote.

Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at jhartley@thelancasternews.com or 283-1151