Sheriff could get at least five more officers
Commissioners mull adding staff as budget talks continue
With the Charles County Board of Commissioner’s initial deadline of May 3 for its approval of the county’s budget, there is still time to make more changes but decisions are beginning to come close to finalization.
One major decision the county has been debating is whether the Charles County Sheriff’s Office should be granted its full budget request that would stretch the county’s allotted funding for the department by $10 million.
Charles County Sheriff Troy Berry (D) has requested funding for 23 more sworn officers for fiscal year 2017 and wants to develop a “matrix” for growing the sheriff’s office over the next five years.
But after taking a look at the budget, the county has proposed to add five additional officers to the sheriff’s office at a cost of $388,500. And the department is applying for a federal and state “Cops” grant, according to David Eicholtz, the director of fiscal and administrative services. If the application is successful, he said, more officers could be added.
“It would award more than five officers if he was able to get that. Our share equates to five officers,” Eicholtz said. “That might get you 15 officers, for example. But we don’t know what the grant award would be yet. We’re just in the application process for it.”
If the county does not get the grant, Chief of Budget Jenifer Ellin said the five officers would still be guaranteed in the budget with county funding.
Eicholtz said the No. 1 priority for the general fund was to provide every department with a “step” or merit increase this year without raising taxes on citizens. The budget accomplishes that, he said, but that ate up most additional revenue growth for the next fiscal year.
“There wasn’t a lot of money left over to do much else with,” Eicholtz said.
County Commissioners’ Vice President Debra Davis (D) said she still has many follow-up questions and would still like to phase in officers over an established time period.
Berry has previously expressed his displeasure with moving from “budget to budget” without having an established plan for moving the sheriff’s office forward.
Berry requested 23 new sworn officers for fiscal year 2017, but he previously said, during a work session with the commissioners, that he would be willing to phase more officers into the department over a set time period.
But County Administrator Michael Mallinoff said the county wanted to make “modest recommendations” for departments all around the county to see if the county can meet its projections for the next fiscal year.
Phasing in any future positions at this point is not a good idea, Mallinoff said, and is not something the Fiscal and Administrative Services Department is comfortable with.
“We’re not recommending any phasing in beyond this year because FAS and staff are uncomfortable projecting beyond this year,” Mallinoff said. “Frankly, it’s been a good year, and we don’t know whether that is going to continue or not.”
The county is trying to “address some needs but be conservative,” Mallinoff said.
But Davis said it is important to consider what the sheriff’s office looks like in the future.
“It’s just very important, to me, that the citizens know, that the sheriff’s department knows, that the correctional officers know that we realize how understaffed they are,” Davis said. “All of our citizens are going to be impacted if we get behind the curve.”
Along with five new sworn officers for the sheriff’s department, four new positions are set to be added on for the Tri-County Animal Shelter.
County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said he was “pleased” to see the shelter being addressed with full-time positions.
With time dwindling down for budget approval, County Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy (D) said they are looking to get the budget done on time for May 3. But, if needed, he said he and the other commissioners would be willing to go over their deadline to make the budget right.