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Council grants sheriff, magistrate personnel requests

Posted: January 7, 2011 4:55 p.m.
Updated: January 10, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Victims of crime in Kershaw County are finally going to have the counseling they need and deserve, according to Sheriff Jim Matthews.

At the new sheriff’s request, Kershaw County Council gave first reading approval Friday of funding for three new victims advocate positions in the sheriff’s department. Additionally, council approved funds for a victims advocate at the magistrates office. Including an existing position, that would provide five victims advocates in a county that has only had one in recent years.

Council also approved Matthews’ request for funding four new positions to compose a traffic unit aimed at cracking down on driving under the influence along I-20 and excessive speeding.

Ordinances must pass three readings before they go into effect, with third and final readings likely coming at the first meeting in February. Chairman Gene Wise didn’t rule out another special meeting to expedite the process, however.

Friday morning’s special called meeting capped off a busy week of transition, both for council -- as Wise called for a special meeting the same day he was sworn in, and new councilman Tom Gardner was named Thursday to chair council’s finance committee meeting -- and for the sheriff’s department, as Matthews continues in his pledge to modernize the sheriff’s office.

The specifics of both Chief Magistrate Judge Gene Hartis’ and Matthews’ requests were hammered out during a three-hour finance committee meeting Thursday. The question that had to be answered for the finance committee -- and council as a whole -- was where the funds for the positions would come from. The victims advocate monies will come primarily from a victims advocate fund that has grown to approximately $550,000 during the past decade.

Hartis requested just under $20,000 for his position to finish the remainder of this year, while Matthews’ estimate comes out to approximately $173,000 per year for three victims advocate investigators, vehicles and other costs.

The current victims advocate generates approximately $80,000 in revenue each year, Matthews said, explaining that the new advocates will be expected to generate at least $50,000 in revenue each year.

The traffic unit funds, approximately $250,000, will be initially pulled from cash reserves, but Matthews has promised council that if the traffic unit isn’t self-sustaining in the near-term -- through DUI tickets and fines, for example -- then he’ll reevaluate and trim positions. Once the traffic squad starts producing a surplus, council wants those funds put back into reserves.

Though Councilman Stephen Smoak, who sits on the finance committee, voted for both measures to “move them forward,” he said he has serious reservations about funding all the positions at once. He’s concerned about depleting the victims advocate fund over the next few years. He said he would prefer a more gradual approach.

Gardner said that because this money should have been used each year, it makes more sense to get it out there now, and see if the programs begin generating additional revenue.

In regard to the traffic unit, Matthews said he wanted to make clear he wasn’t turning all of Kershaw County’s roads “into a speed trap.”

The new sheriff based his assumptions that the unit would be “revenue-neutral” or even produce a surplus on par with a similar unit in Lee County.

Councilman Jimmy Jones, who rounds out the three-member finance committee, repeatedly stated that all of the measures enacted would not require an increase in taxes.


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