Sheriff's office to delay hiring, vehicle purchases

The Columbia County Sheriff's Office hopes to deflect more than $500,000 in 2008-09 budget cuts by delaying hires and vehicle purchases, officials say.

"Public safety will not be impacted," sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said Thursday. "We will continue to deliver the level of law enforcement services our citizens deserve and expect."

A state revenue shortfall and Gov. Sonny Perdue's freeze on a tax grant program helped squeeze the county's spending plans. The sheriff's office eliminated nearly $360,000 from its $13 million annual budget by holding the line on the hires and vehicles. The same steps were used to cut nearly $190,000 from the county Detention Center's approximately $7.5 million budget, Capt. Morris said.

The trims to the sheriff's office and Detention Center budgets were the largest cuts by any Columbia County department.

County commissioners approved more than $1.26 million in cuts this week to help make up the loss of $1.45 million in state funding caused by Mr. Perdue's freeze of the Homestead Tax Relief Grant.

Commissioners asked each county department to trim 2.61 percent from its budgets.

"Looking at the two budgets, the only way to cut the amount requested is by cutting manpower and CIP (capital improvements)," according to a sheriff's office internal memo.

The memo suggested that the sheriff's office can save $87,600 by delaying four new hires. It also stated the sheriff's office can save thousands more by delaying the purchase of more than 20 vehicles, including golf carts used for perimeter patrols, maintenance trucks and a recording system for the county courthouse and a metal storage building.

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.