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Matthews seeks raises for Kershaw County deputies

Posted: May 10, 2013 7:17 p.m.
Updated: May 13, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews wants to pay his deputies more money in an effort to keep them on staff instead of losing them to other agencies. Matthews told Kershaw County Council members during a work session Thursday that the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) is becoming a training ground, and that the level of staff experience is decreasing as he loses valuable personnel.

Matthews said he originally intended to make the same budget request he’s made in previous years: funds to hire additional deputies. This time, however, Matthews presented another dilemma to council that “overshadows the personnel problem.”

“I’m losing people because of fluctuating overtime. Today was the last day of one of my second officers. I thought he was going to a place with an $8,000 raise, but I found out it was a $10,000 raise,” Matthews said. “My two narcotics officers, the ones I recruited from Richland County -- the best I’ve ever seen anywhere, they’ve been responsible for a huge decrease in the availability of drugs in this county -- they have both applied to go elsewhere and it is because of the fluctuating overtime situation.”

KCSO deputies do not work a 40-hour week, but work until the job is done, Matthews said. He said some deputies are only earning the equivalent of about $4 an hour in overtime pay before taxes while they are taking time from their family to help Kershaw County citizens. Matthews said he wants to find an equitable way to compensate officers, instead of focusing on more personnel, although they are equally important in his mind.  He suggested three options: overtime paid at time and a half, which would cost more than $500,000 with fringe benefits; a straight hourly rate; or a 6 percent pay increase for all personnel excluding Matthews and his chief deputy, for a total of about $187,000.

“We have got to do something. I cannot keep losing people at the rate that it looks like we are losing them and it’s because of pay,” Matthews said.

Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter said the law would prevent hourly pay, therefore requiring overtime to be paid at time and a half.

Matthews said he originally intended to ask for four patrolmen, one narcotics agent and one investigator. He said the KCSO has seen a 31 percent increase in call volume since he took office. Also, even though the KCSO’s fleet is in better shape, the agency is still putting an average of 1 million miles per year on its 24-vehicle fleet, causing the vehicles to age faster. Matthews also reminded council that Bethune recently dissolved its police department and that the Kershaw County Courthouse insists on having at least five officers each day. He also said response time is below the national average and if two crises happened in Kershaw County “the sheriff’s office would get shut down.”

Matthews was the last of five public service agency heads to present budget needs Thursday. He acknowledged the needs of the other agencies, noting that if they are not adequately funded, KCSO personnel are wasting their time.

In regard to school resource officers (SROs), Matthews stood by his decision to remove three SROs from Camden schools. He will put two on the road and one at the Applied Technology Education Campus (ATEC), he said. Council invited Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan into the conversation and the parties resolved to move forward with a meeting between the KCSO, KCSD, council, city of Camden and Camden Police Department (CPD) officials. Matthews said the 2012 working agreement was that the school district, council and city of Camden would split the bill. Morgan said parents are more concerned about SROs than academic achievement and the issue needs to be resolved. At council’s last work session, members learned that although they thought they were funding SROs specifically, they were really just funding deputies. Once council allotted the KCSO funds, Matthews then had full legal authority to use the money anyway he sees fit, which means he can pull SROs from schools, Carpenter said recently.

Councilman Jimmy Jones said he wanted a clear understanding of how the money will be used.

“I want to see some checks and balances. If we think we are funding money for ‘A’ I want to make sure the money is going for ‘A’ and not going for ‘B’ once the money is funded,” Jones said. “My question is that if you take the resource officers out of city schools, are we going to get that money back? Are you going to give that money back to us?”

Matthews said the KCSO’s previous administration had a gentleman’s agreement that the money allocated would be for SROs, but there was nothing done in writing that said the money allocated would specifically fund SROs.

“The city is fat with officers and I’m stretched thin to a breaking point,” Matthews said. “I don’t see why an agency that is so stretched as we are is going to be forced to take deputies off the road, when this agency over here has as many people patrolling the city of Camden as I have patrolling the whole county. They can take people off existing shifts and still do better than I can, and they wouldn’t have to hire anybody. If I was properly staffed this wouldn’t be a problem.”

Councilman Steven Smoak noted that there is “a big difference between municipal-level police coverage and county-level coverage.” Smoak said he was inclined to grant the request for more personnel, but would like to know that he won’t ask Elgin to provide SROs and that there won’t be SROs pulled from other county schools. Matthews said he would not pull from other county schools.

Jones said there are three options: gather officials from the school district, council and city of Camden to split costs; raise taxes and fund more deputies; or take the funding from the sheriff. Smoak said a meeting with all of the entities might produce a fourth idea.

Carpenter reminded council that third reading of the county’s final budget will happen after the city of Camden approves its budget because the city only takes two readings to pass ordinances. If the CPD takes over providing SROs to Camden schools, Matthews said the three current SROs would be transferred to the CPD.

Following Matthews, 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson, County Administrator Vic Carpenter on behalf of the Kershaw County Detention Center (KCSD), Public Defender Douglas Strickler and Kershaw County Fire Marshal Gene Faulkenberry presented their 2013-2014 budget requests. The total of cost of all the requests, including Matthews’, totaled more than $2 million dollars.

The county has a $21 million budget and 28 departments that will submit budget requests.

There are currently 13 state and local agencies and 117 officers sending cases to two Kershaw County solicitors, Johnson said. He said Kershaw County’s two solicitors have caseloads of about 1,042 warrants each.  The national average for solicitor caseloads is 350 warrants, he said. There are currently 359 violent crimes pending in Kershaw County and 2,087 total warrants pending as of May 8. Kershaw County solicitors get about 38 new cases each week and many of the pending cases involve persons out on bond, who are often committing more crime, Johnson noted. There are currently 84 detainees at the KCDC waiting for a general session’s court date. It costs the public $1.3 million dollars a year to hold those 84 inmates, Johnson said.  The solicitor’s office is spending about $600,000 in Kershaw County, with a base appropriation of $160,000 and less than $110,000 in state support, for a total deficit of nearly $329,000.

Johnson asked council for approximately $502,000 to address a two-tier plan: reconcile the budgetary short fall; and provide funding to hire two assistant solicitors, a full time paralegal and, “looking forward,” an investigator. There is currently no paralegal for the solicitor’s office in Kershaw County.

“We need to move more cases than we take in,” Johnson said, emphasizing the need for additional solicitors.

Carpenter made council aware that although it is setting aside about $250,000 for a capital trial case, that money doesn’t help the solicitor’s offices day-to-day operations.

Strickler did not ask for his office’s normal allocation of $100,000, but said council should consider allocating twice that amount. Strickler said he needs two more attorneys and support staff.

Faulkenberry made a request of $900,000 for four new tankers. The figure can be leased over time, Carpenter said. The Kershaw County Fire Service (KCFS) has $580,000 in a reserve fund, some of which would help purchase the tankers, he said. Chair Gene Wise said that when he looks at budgeting for capital needs, he likes to use a five- to 10-year plan. Carpenter said the department is still trying to catch up. The four tankers would bring the KCFS up to date and then could start a rotation based on a five- to 10-year plan. The KCFS millage can be adjusted independently of the county’s general fund, but would still be governed by Act 388.

Carpenter said that KCDC is critically understaffed, according to a study by the S.C. Association of Counties. He said it is lucky to meet state minimum for staffing and council should consider allocating more money. There are currently 119 inmates at KCDC. Having only four staff members per shift to patrol the jail is a safety hazard, Carpenter said.  In 2010, KCDC had a total of 32 employees; last year it only had 25. In addition to losing staff, the jail has picked up the task of transporting inmates locally for the KCSO. Matthews said he didn’t have the manpower to continue that duty. Carpenter said KCDC needs four more officers, at a total of about $351,000.

The Lugoff Fire Department will present its requests at the council’s regular meeting Tuesday.

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