On Salem Road, we are familiar with the crime and hear the sirens almost every night. The Credit Union on the Sigman end was robbed twice in six months, one robbery led to a shootout in the woods. There is a lot of pressure on the existing Rockdale County Sheriffs Office to cover not only the Salem Road Corridor Section of Rockdale County that includes Ingles, Food Depot, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, KFC, Gold’s Gym, AT&T, but a huge number of smaller businesses mixed with half of the Fieldstone subdivision and other residential on this side of Rockdale County.
From the Rockdale Citizen; (full story below in case link gets broken)
“CONYERS — The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners and Sheriff Jeff Wigington came to an agreement to apply for a federal grant to hire more deputies, but Thursday night the topic became more political and tensions more obvious between officials.”
Thanks to the video below of Tuesdays meeting, we clearly see two BOC officers decline to put the grant application on the agenda. The word on the corridor is the Janice Van Ness forced the item through in executive session.
After butting heads for several weeks, Rockdale County Board of Commissioners and Rockdale County Sheriff Jeff Wigington reportedly came to an agreement earlier this week over the federal COPS grant application. However, the Sheriff’s Office budget became a hot topic again when it was brought up off the agenda at the Rockdale Coalition of Homeowners and Civic Associations meeting Thursday night, in the absence of representatives from the Sheriff’s Office.
The Sheriff’s Office applied on Wednesday for four deputy positions instead of the maximum seven positions under the COPS grant, which pays for salaries and benefits for the first three years while the county pays for the fourth year.The matter was reportedly discussed on Tuesday when the Sheriff was called to the executive session after the BOC meeting.
The cost of one year of salary and benefits for a deputy is about $42,200. The grant would provide about $506,000 for four positions over three years. The county would pay about $168,800 for the fourth year.
As part of the agreement, the cost of the equipment will come out of the RCSO budget. “We feel like we’ll be able to equip them with equipment we already have,” said Wigington.
In a released statement, Rockdale County CEO Richard Oden said “The Commissioners and I are doing our best to deliver options that will have the least amount of financial impact on the county. Under the terms of this agreement, the Sheriff will absorb the costs that my colleagues and I agree, would otherwise not be sustainable in 2012.”
Oden brought up the budget and funding of the RCSO at Thursday night’s quarterly meeting of the Rockdale Coalition of Homeonwers and Civic Associations. The topic was not on the agenda and no representatives from the RCSO were present at the meeting.
Towards the end of the meeting, after hearing from department heads for Rockdale Water Resources, Transportation, Board of Assessors, and a representative from the state’s emergency health agency, Oden reviewed figures reported in the 2010 Sheriff’s Office report. He pointed out the level of funding for the RCSO had increased and the crime levels had decreased, while other county departments had decreased their funding to 2008 levels.
“This has been the strongest level of commitment (to the Sheriff’s Office) in the history of Rockdale County,” said Oden. “Our justification for further conversation was that we looked at the funding provisions in the grant that says that we will potentially lose points and may not get that grant… .” He said the COPS grant application included provisions that the funding was for positions that were unfunded or would have been laid off.
Former sheriff’s candidate Donald Ferguson, who previously announced he would run again in 2012 and was reportedly wearing a campaign button, said at the meeting “I encourage the Board of Commissioners to have an audit done on the sheriff’s office using a company outside of the county to investigate not only the COPS program, which I perceive is a division. It’s supposed to be a program in the community policing concept…”
Audience members protested the comments. Gerald Barger, president of the Ga. Highway 20 Coalition, said “Mr Chairman, this is out of order. You’ve got a man who’s on a campaign against our sheriff standing here making a speech to get recognized.”
“If you’re not going to have our sheriff here, this should not be discussed.”
Brian Jenkins, who previously announced he was running for the CEO seat in 2012, said “What just transpired here was our sheriff being hoodwinked. Perhaps if he had known, he would have been here, he would have sat on that wall like (the other department heads).”
Elaine Nash, a member of the previous and current SPLOST oversight committee, pointed out the jail expansion increased the RCSO’s manpower needs and cost significantly by about 60 positions.
Ed Conway of the Lakeview Action Committee said the original intent of the Coalition was to facilitate exchange of information between the county and Homeowners Associations and civic groups.
“There is going to be politicing,” he said. “But we need to keep this under control.”
Wigington said he heard about the meeting but had not had a chance to review recordings and declined to comment.
RCSO grant application approved
Posted: 10:51 PM May 27, 2011
Reporter: By Jay Jones
CONYERS — The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners and Sheriff Jeff Wigington came to an agreement to apply for a federal grant to hire more deputies, but Thursday night the topic became more political and tensions more obvious between officials.
Rockdale County Commission Chairman Richard Oden announced the agreement at Thursday’s Rockdale Homeowners and Civic Groups Coalition meeting. The agreement, in the form of a letter from Wigington, states that the application for the federal COPS hiring grant will ask for funding of four deputy positions instead of seven. Wigington also agreed the cost of uniforms and patrol cars would be absorbed in his 2012 budget.
In the letter, Wigington says he believes he can cover the costs through savings recouped from vacant positions that come up through the year “assuming the Sheriff’s Office is funded for 2012 at the present level of $18.7 million.”
However, at Thursday’s meeting, Oden laid out his opposition to the grant by noting the Sheriff’s Office budget has grown from $14 million in 2008 to $17.3 million this year, while incidents of crime dropped over the same period. (Editor’s Note: There apparently is a discrepancy of more than $1 million between Oden’s sheriff’s office budget figures and Wigington’s.)
The grant authorization was a complete turnaround by the BOC. The BOC declined to place the application on its regular meeting agenda Tuesday with the deadline to file looming Wednesday. Oden said the agreement came during an executive session after Tuesday’s meeting and was finalized Wednesday.
During Thursday night’s Rockdale Homeowners and Civic Groups Coalition meeting, Oden said he was attempting to be fiscally responsible in not allowing the grant application to be heard because of matching funds which would obligate the county. The COPS grant would cover salaries, benefits, vehicles and equipment of the positions for three years while the county would be responsible for all costs in the fourth year.
Oden then asked for questions and Donald Ferguson, an announced candidate for sheriff who ran against Wigington during the last election cycle, was called on. Ferguson “challenged the Board of Commissioners” to perform an audit on the Sheriff’s Office’s community outreach policing program. He said the program was not performing its role.
People attending the meeting interrupted Ferguson and charged that he was using the meeting for political means.
Gerald Burger, president of the Ga. Highway 20 Coalition of Homeowners Association, protested the loudest. He felt the meeting was “unprofessional” because discussion on the Sheriff’s Office was not on the agenda.
“I guess the straw that broke the camel’s back was when Ferguson started talking,” Burger said Friday. “That’s when I interrupted and said this is just not right. He’s just up there campaigning. It was obvious it was planned. Ferguson has never been to one of these meetings before.”
Wigington said Friday he, too, was unaware that his department would be discussed at the Thursday meeting. The Homeowners Coalition is an information session held once a quarter. County officials provide an update of projects and their departments and residents have the opportunity to ask questions.
Wigington said his budget has grown because of the expansion of the jail that was completed in 2009 and added 400 beds.
“The jail doubled in size and that added to the cost in operations and hiring personnel to run it,” Wigington said Friday. “It’s 100,000 square feet of heated space added while very little has been added to law enforcement. If I had known I was going to be the topic of discussion, I would have been there to defend myself.”