The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office laid off 11 managers, eliminated two vacant positions and reassigned about 60 employees in a massive restructuring of the agency’s organization announced Wednesday afternoon.
Sheriff Duane Piper, who took office in January, said the changes are intended to enhance responsiveness to the public and increase efficiency within the agency.
The 11 eliminated “middle management positions” included four captains, six lieutenants and two sergeants.
“It became extremely clear, extremely quickly that we were overloaded in the middle,” Piper said. “It would be irresponsible of me, even negligent, to continue with the bloated model that we had for our agency.”
The decisions were made with numbers, not names in mind, said Piper, who added that laying off people he has known for more than eight years had been one of the most difficult tasks in his life.
Those employees had various years of service with the agency, ranging from about eight to 25. Each one will get an option to take a severance package.
As an example of the restructuring, Piper noted that animal control once had its own chain of command. That has changed, and the unit will now fall under the uniform patrol division.
The elimination of 13 positions will reduce office costs by more than $1 million, putting the agency at 375 employees and closer to this year’s budget reduction.
Piper said he’s confident the agency can meet the 2013 budget of nearly $31.6 million without tapping into the $5 million in reserves set aside by the county commission in October.
However, Piper said he may request a portion of that money be returned to this year’s budget to simplify the process of tracking spending.
“I don’t think we will need one penny of that this year,” he said. “But there may be a point where I ask the commission for a part of that … I need to be able to understand where we’re saving the money so I know where we can target to save more money and it’s easier to me if we don’t have to change line items.”
Some budget line items were depleted in the $5 million reduction, he said, and the agency has been moving money from other areas to cover those needs.
Previous sheriff Ted Paxton, who Piper defeated in the August Republican runoff election, had asked county commissioners to approve the $5 million budget decrease in October.
Paxton had said the reduction was in line with Piper’s campaign promise and he was responding to that.
The cuts, according to the county finance department, included removing all budgeted overtime, $836,000, and all inmate out-of-county housing, $2.6 million.
They also removed funding for 18 vacant positions, totaling nearly $1.3 million, as well as a $300,000 reduction in gasoline costs, originally proposed at about $1.1 million.
Overall, the restructuring announced Wednesday consolidates levels of management and moves personnel to community relations, school resource officers and the uniform patrol division.
Employees who were reassigned will not have to take a pay cut, he said.
“Basically, we’re pulling people from out behind desks and putting them on the street,” Piper said.
He gave an example of moving supervisors from criminal investigations division into patrols to bring expertise to that area.
The aim is to enhance responsiveness to the public, Piper said.
“If you had a burglary, you don’t just have a deputy who takes a report, gives you a case number and three days later you hear from an investigator,” he said. “We’ll start working your burglary right there. But to do that, we have to give these deputies the tools and the help of the experienced people.”
The change in organization also puts more units and sections under one captain or administrator.
Those supervisors will report to majors of the three divisions under which most services fall: sheriff’s services, operations and enforcement.
The changes also involve creating a unit to increase monitoring of sex offenders and an increased focus on financial crimes.
The horse patrol unit, a popular topic of discussion on the 2012 campaign trail, was removed in the restructuring. Piper said the four horses were donated to Chatham County on Georgia’s coast.