Originally created 06/18/97

$270,000 will fund jail jobs



Columbia County Commissioners agreed Tuesday to beef up security at the county detention center.

A total of 10 positions, at a cost of $270,000, will be paid for out of contingency funds from the 1997-98 fiscal budget that kicks in July 1, said Commission Chairman Pete Brodie.

Mr. Brodie said there is about a half million dollars of contingency money in the $24.3 million budget that will be used to fill critical needs in any area, including the sheriff department. "Clearly there will be staffing requirements at the jail," said Mr. Brodie.

Sheriff Clay Whittle originally requested 18 new officers for the jail, which has been plagued by three escapes in the past two years.

"Certainly any relief is going to be relief," said Sheriff Whittle. "We are in dire need of personnel."

Of the 10 new hires, which the commission unanimously approved at their regular meeting Tuesday, eight will work in the security area of the jail.

Currently, there are 47 detention center officers bolstered by Sheriff Whittle's deputies who are logging a monthly average of 655 overtime hours at the facility, according to the county's human resources manager, Marcia Lowry.

On any given shift, there are four detention center officers and two deputies on security duty, said jail commander Captain John Wheeler. "The jail staff are really burned out," said Captain Wheeler.

Mr. Brodie and commissioners Jim Whitehead and Pat Farr, were supposed to meet Tuesday with consultant Sheriff James R. Metts of Lexington County, S.C., to discuss staffing solutions for the jail. But Sheriff Metts, who authorized a staffing analysis of the jail, canceled at the last minute.

Instead of discussing Sheriff Metts' analysis, the commissioners and Sheriff Whittle gathered anyway and pored over a jail staffing analysis prepared the county's human resources department.

Besides the 10 new personnel, the county analysis also recommends that supervisors at the jail be required to complete an intensive jail operations training program prior to coming onboard. It also suggests cross-training the jail staff so they can perform multiple functions.

In addition, privatizing some services at the jail, including medical, transportation and food service, should be looked into, both studies concluded.

In other business, the commission:

úTabled an ordinance requiring any restaurant with more than 35 seats to set aside 75 percent of seating for non-smokers. Commissioners are waiting for the state attorney's general to render and opinion on a Fayette County smoking policy.

úVoted to increase the rental rate of recreation fields and the county gymnasium, along with the adult activity participation fee and per-participant fee for day camp sponsors.

Camper storage fees will also increase to $30 per month. Regular season passes will increase to $300 for a 30-day pass and $700 for a 70-day pass. The senior citizen season passes will increase to $545 for a 30-day pass and $490 for a 70-day pass.