Sheriff has issues
By Stan Welch
The Anderson County Council voted Thursday night, at a special called meeting, to approve the budget for FY 2014-2105. The Council was divided, approving the budget by a bare minimum of 4-3.
Discussion was civil for the most part, but became somewhat acrimonious when Sheriff John Skipper rose to defend his department and his Constitutional right to spend his separate tax millage as he sees fit.
“As an elected official, once the Council approves the budget and tells me what my available funds are for the fiscal year, thenm I can spend that money as I see fit.”
At issue was the sheriff’s purchase of two additional consoles for the central dispatch facility. Councilman Francis Crowder challenged the need to spend several thousand dollars apiece for what he described as “furniture.” He complained that the consoles included individual cooling and lighting source; a claim Skipper quickly deflated by explaining that the cooling source was a small fan and the lighting source was a goose neck lamp for the dispatcher’s use.
The tension only increased as the next request, for the purchase of specialized listening equipment to be used in hostage and other similar situations, came to the floor. Finance committee chairman Tom Allen reported that his committee voted unanimously not to approve the purchase, adding that they felt the money would be better spent on salary increases.
The equipment would allow SWAT team personnel to attach sensors to various exterior points of a building and be able to hear what was going on inside. Skipper defended the need for the equipment, and added that if he didn’t spend the money, after June 30, the end of the current budget year, the money returns to the general fund.
“And what will ya’ll do with it? Put it in your recreation funds or something. But you can bet you’ll spend it,” said Skipper.
Councilman Ken Waters acknowledged the potential value of the equipment, but voted along with five other members to defeat the proposal. Councilwoman Gracie Floyd was the only vote in support of the sheriff.
The discussion strayed from the specific request to the issue of employee salaries and the department’s difficulty in maintaining personnel. Skipper stated that other counties start their officers and dispatchers at higher figures, and added that he continuously loses personnel who go to work for those counties.
Councilwoman Cindy Wilson took issue with Skipper, saying that for the last several years, he has run a surplus of a quarter million dollars or more, which she said could and should be used to increase salaries. “It bothers me that you have these funds on hand year after year, yet you come to us, looking for additional money to buy equipment. If you think your people need more money, or you need more dispatchers, then do what you need to do. You’ve just told us the money is yours to spend as you see fit.”
After some more discussion, Chairman Tommy Dunn managed to pull the meeting back to the actual issue, and the budget was eventually approved. Those opposed to the budget were Crowder, Wilson and Councilman Eddie Moore.