Originally created 12/15/04

Sanford will push for more officers

AIKEN - A proposal to add 425 officers to South Carolina's threadbare law enforcement agencies will be included in the executive budget Gov. Mark Sanford plans to release in January, he announced Tuesday.

But even if the additions are approved by the Legislature, they won't be enough to get some agencies back to their 2000 employment levels, the high-water mark that has been whittled down by steep budget cuts that started in 2001.

The governor provided a sobering list of job cuts made to state law enforcement agencies with his announcement, including an 18 percent drop in the number of troopers on the South Carolina Highway Patrol since 2000, from 961 to 788.

His plan would add 115 officers to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, including 100 troopers.

"Getting more troopers on the road is obviously a critical part of advancing the quality of life in South Carolina," Mr. Sanford said in a prepared statement.

In the glimpse of the budget he provided, the departments of Public Safety, Corrections and Juvenile Justice would get nearly $32 million in general revenue money, plus a burst of $22 million in one-time funds that could pay for sorely needed items, including new highway patrol vehicles.

Mr. Sanford's spokesman, Will Folks, said the $31.7 million in recurring money would come from the general revenues, but he would not say where the extra $22 million will come from.

Mr. Folks said the governor plans to reveal the source of that money when he releases his full budget plan in January.

However, the governor did press home his argument for the need for the money.

For example, as the number of highway patrolmen dropped, the time it has taken them to respond to accidents went up, from an average of 28 minutes in 2001 to 35 minutes last year, Mr. Sanford's statement said.

Also, the Corrections Department has seen its budget drop by 14 percent from 2001 to 2004, while the state's inmate volume increased 10.4 percent during that time. The disparity has created a $56 million deficit and has increased the ratio of inmates to guards.

Under Mr. Sanford's plan, the Corrections Department would get 124 new officers and a new substance abuse center. The Department of Juvenile Justice would add 126 officers, the Department of Natural Resources would get 40 new law enforcement officers and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division would get 10 new agents and 10 lab personnel.

The prospect of more highway patrolmen was welcome news to Aiken County Sheriff Mike Hunt, who must use his deputies to fill holes left by cuts at the state level.

"I applaud the governor for putting public safety up front and trying to get us some relief," Sheriff Hunt said. "I think he realizes it has put the crunch on local agencies, especially sheriff's offices. It just proves he's been listening to us."

The House Ways and Means Committee, which helps draft the state's budget, met Tuesday for the first time in preparation for the legislative session, which begins Jan. 11, said state Rep. Roland Smith, R-Langley, the chairman of the committee's K-12 education subcommittee.

He said all legislators could do was "look at Mr. Sanford's proposals and do what we can."

"Obviously, we have a lot of needs out there, and we only have so much money to meet those needs," he said.

Economic forecasters have said the state will enjoy a budget surplus of about $350 million next year, the first in three years.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 113, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.

Gov. Mark Sanford has a plan that would add 425 officers to South Carolina's law enforcement agencies.


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