Sheriff seeks more staff
Berry requests 10.4 percent increase in funds
Typically in budget discussions for different jurisdictions, education and public safety are prioritized in some way over everything else. The same rings true in Charles County where they make up 67.5 percent of the proposed FY17 general fund.
But Sheriff Troy Berry (D) feels public safety is not being prioritized enough. As it stands, in the
proposed general fund for next fiscal year, the sheriff’s office is getting $82.8 million from the county. That marks a 3.7 percent increase over the $79.9 million from last year’s budget, but the sheriff has requested a 10.4 percent increase.
When dealing with public safety, Berry said, the county has to take into account the “current and changing” needs in the community. In a transient community where people are visiting and commuting in and out of the county every day, the needs are always shifting and coverage needs to be at a premium.
The sheriff’s office has “experienced limitations,” Berry said, over the last few years. “Particularly in our sworn officer staffing,” he said.
The sheriff’s office has increased its sworn officer staff by 10 people in the last seven years and the population of the surrounding community continues to grow. In its budget request, the sheriff’s office has asked for an increase of 23 sworn officers.
“I think the sheriff’s office plays a vital role in the community,” Berry said. “We’re looking at, over the next three years, of bringing in at least 30 officers. I think we’re definitely in a position to make a significant dent in that particular goal.”
Berry said the sheriff’s office is willing to compromise with the county and create a “strategic plan” with the county government to grow the sheriff’s office in a “responsible way.”
Along with a need for sworn officers, Berry said, the department is in need of more correctional officers and support staff. The dash cameras on police cars are becoming outdated as well, he said.
County Commissioners’ Vice President Debra Davis (D) said Berry is the one who knows what the sheriff’s office needs and said she would be willing to work with him to come up with workable solutions.
At the end of the day, Davis said, the office has the experience of covering the community and knows what it is like.
“You’re the expert and I will be the first to say pub- lic safety is No. 1. I’ve been screaming that since I’ve been here,” Davis said.
Still, Davis said, the county has failed to plan for public safety outside of short term goals and that is something they have to improve on to move forward.
“No community wants to be behind the eight-ball when it comes to being equipped to serve a growing population,” Davis said.
Berry said the sheriff’s office is at one officer for every 500 people per capita. According to data acquired from the U.S. Census Bureau, the population in Charles County increased by 9,567 from April 2010 to July 2015 to a total of 156,118 people.
The increase in officers is a “need, not a want,” Berry said, and it has to happen soon as Charles County’s population continues to grow.
“Even if we’re in a position of, overall, getting 30 officers within a three year period, I think that is a manageable way to move forward,” Berry said.
County Commissioner Amanda Stewart (D) said she understands the request made by the sheriff and his department, but she remained skeptical about the office needing such a big increase.
That increase may, in fact, be justified, Stewart said, but she said there needs to be data backing up the justification that the sheriff’s office needs a 10.4 percent funding increase so the commissioners can justify prioritizing that type of increase for one department.
Each department needs to be on level playing ground, Stewart said, and other departments have used data gathered from County Administrator Michael Mallinoff’s International City/County Management Association standards to justify their requests for increases.
With data such as that, Stewart said, the commissioners can make informed decisions on what needs to be done.
While Berry said he un- derstands why Stewart is asking for more data, he said the sheriff’s office is unlike any other department because of the transient nature of the county and the growing population officers are sworn to protect.
Berry continued to say the comparison between the sheriff’s office and other departments is not an “apples to apples” comparison.
“The data is good and we don’t mind providing the data. But a lot of those offices do not carry the weight of the office I have been elected to,” Berry said.
But Stewart held her ground and said she still would like to see more data supporting his requests.
“For me, it’s not comparing apples to oranges, it’s looking at the sheriff’s department to see your needs,” Stewart said. “I think it’s important that when we set our priorities we have all that information.”
County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said both sides are at the table and ready to make things work in the best way possible.
Discussions are a “twoway street,” Robinson said, and no one is trying to avoid a discussion. The key to budget discussions is forming a dialogue, he said, and “I think we’ve had that.”