Originally created 05/26/05

Sheriff's office must compete for tax money



AIKEN - The creaky trailer-turned-office building that rests on concrete blocks at the Aiken County Sheriff's Office is a shabby reminder of the county's limited spending capabilities.

Whether to replace it, and how to pay for it, is one of many tough choices the Aiken County Council faces as it cobbles together next year's budget.

Earlier this year, Sheriff Mike Hunt asked county administrators for $75,000, money that could refurbish part of the county's old jail and provide a permanent and more secure home for narcotics agents working out of the trailer.

But administrators didn't recommend any funding for the upgrades. So on Tuesday, Sheriff Hunt told the Aiken County Council, which makes final budgeting decisions, that he could get by with half the money he originally wanted for the trailer.

"Quite simply, we just have to keep up with the times," he said.

Paying for basic needs such as office space is becoming increasingly difficult for the county as its growing population strains its ability to provide services.

From 1990 to 2004, the county grew 23.2 percent, from 120,940 to 148,960 residents, according to the most recent U.S. Census estimates.

The sheriff isn't the only department head with his hand out.

One of the most noticeable needs is manpower. In all, county officials asked to hire 43 people, although none of those positions is included in the proposed budget County Administrator Clay Killian presented to the council last week.

Some of the positions requested are in departments that provide the county's most critical services.

The sheriff, for example, says he needs 11 new people, including five road patrol deputies. The 13 new positions requested by Emergency Services would include paramedics, firefighters and hazardous-materials experts.

The public works department, meanwhile, asked for five people to help keep up with the county's growing mountains of trash. The volume of waste is expected to grow to 158,515 tons by 2006, a 49 percent increase over the 106,085 tons collected in 1999.

The bottom line, some officials say, is that the manpower requests have the potential to affect most residents in the county.

If the positions aren't filled, "it's going to reduce services," said Alvin Bryan, the director of public works.

For example, said Joan Donnelly, the assistant county administrator, there might not be any room at drop-off points when residents go to dump waste "because everyone cleaned their yard that weekend" and there isn't anybody to empty the storage bins.

The county council is supposed to approve its budget before July 1, when the county's fiscal year starts.

County government last raised taxes in 2003, but some residents quietly say they would welcome an increase.

Councilwoman Kathy Rawls said she hadn't "seen a consensus for raising taxes."

"If we're adding something, something else is going to have to get cut," she said.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.