The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office is requesting just over $3.1 million in non-budgeted funds to increase the number of agency personnel.
In a budget proposal meeting Tuesday morning, Sheriff Ron Freeman and several of his staff presented the department’s requests to the Forsyth County Finance Committee, which included 30 new positions – 29 of whom would be sheriff’s deputies – as well as about $4 million in capital outlays.
They also presented the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2018, which increased 4.82 percent from this year’s budget, from about $40.5 million to slightly more than $42.4 million.
The majority of this year’s increase came from healthcare and accidental death and dismemberment, or AD&D, expenses the county is required to provide employees with, according to Dave Gruen, the county’s chief financial officer.
“I will say as a summary, and I don’t want to use this as a catch-all rationale, but a lot of this [personnel] is tied to growth,” said Maj. Tom Patton, head of the agency’s Support Services Division. “This is [due to] the growth of the county and the proportion of growth and demand for services, and I mean services in the broadest sense.
“It’s not just 911 calls; a lot of it is service-based that [deputies] provide to citizens.”
At full capacity, the sheriff’s office is capped at 436 employees, about 320 of whom are currently sworn deputies, with about 80 employees serving as civilian staff.
While not all 436 positions are currently filled, the new budget items ask the county to bring that number to 466.
The new personnel would include: four deputy sheriff first class detectives, 16 deputy sheriffs divided between the north and south precincts, six deputy sheriffs in the jail, three deputy first class school resource officers, or SROs, and one public safety grant writer.
Freeman said the grant writer – a person whose sole job is to apply for and procure grants – would be split, financially, between the sheriff’s office, fire department and 911 center, each department paying 40, 40 and 20 percent of his or her salary, respectively.
“None of the personnel requests reflect new initiatives,” Patton said. “We don’t want to start up a unit; by and large, this represents maintaining the level of service that we are providing for 210,000 citizens – now we have to provide services for 240,000 citizens.”
According to data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau, Forsyth’s population grew by about 4 percent in 2016, increasing to 221,009 residents from 212,438 in 2015.
The whole area is continuing to grow, too, based on predictions released last year by the Atlanta Regional Commission that estimated metro-Atlanta’s population will double by 2040.
In addition, Patton added, two new schools, Denmark High School and the Alliance Academy for Innovation of Cumming-Forsyth County, will open in August 2018.
It’s not just more manpower the sheriff’s office needs, Freeman said.
In part, the growth drives the need for an increase in capital assets, which then, in turn, requires more capital outlay.
“All I can do is bring our needs to you and justify what those needs are,” Freeman said. “They help me provide services to our citizens and that’s where [the finance committee’s] responsibility comes in, to determine where that makes sense.”
Of the $4,079,000 the sheriff’s office is requesting in capital outlay, about $1.65 million of that would go to buying and outfitting 30-35 new vehicles.
“We have card readers, license readers, we have printers in the cars,” Freeman said. “They are mobile offices; they are complete high-tech, so $45,000 is probably the cheapest you could put a brand new car together.”
Aside from the new vehicles, the department also asked for $500,000 to be allocated to land purchases and $1.9 million to go to buildings and building improvements.
Largely, that includes a gun range, a future move of headquarters and several “initiatives” the sheriff office would like to implement, including a traffic response vehicle, which was described as a “DOT Hero lite vehicle,” automated license plate readers, about a dozen body cameras and several drones.
The firing range, Freeman said, would cost about $900,000 in total but would ultimately reduce the costs associated with current deputies having to travel out-of-county for certified firearms training.
“We are the third- or fourth-largest full-service sheriff’s office in the state of Georgia and I have nowhere for my deputies to do firearms training,” he said. “It is one of the highest liability areas we could ever assume and the potential of taking a human life.
“That is one of the most solemn things we might ever be faced with doing, so I have to have a place to do that.”
Tuesday’s meeting served as an introduction to the agency’s budget requests, which will be further discussed in upcoming weeks.