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County department heads talk budget with council

Posted: April 3, 2014 5:48 p.m.
Updated: April 4, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Kershaw County Council continued the process of preparing its budget for Fiscal Year 2015 with a special workshop Tuesday. Several county department heads spoke to council, outlining their financial needs and wants. County Administrator Vic Carpenter opened the meeting saying he and his staff had already seen the department head’s proposals.

“We’ve met with each one of them and gone over their requests and staff is comfortable with the requests they’re making,” he said. “They will be able to explain to you what they need.”

First up was 5th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Douglas Strickler. The 5th Circuit is comprised of Kershaw and Richland counties. Strickler said a priority for his office is to get defendants through the system efficiently in order to reduce jail overpopulation.

“An attorney representing people actually helps move cases along rather than delaying the cases, so that can impact the (jail) population,” he said. “The public defenders around the state operate about 80 percent of the cases the solicitors have. We’re running with a budget of $100,000 from the county; and the solicitor, if I read the budget correctly, received $220,000 last year. We’re running 83 percent of their case load while we’re being funded 45 percent of their funding.”

Strickler said public defenders help insure a fair judicial system for everyone.

“What happens if someone is convicted who is not the right person? That means the wrong person is still out there,” he said. “Quality representation assures not that bad guys get off -- it assures that you have confidence that the right person is convicted.”

Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson also spoke to council, saying his office has a tremendous backlog of cases and hiring additional attorneys would help speed up the process.

“We’ve got a lot of violent crime and with that comes complexity. When you look at the cases we have on our docket you can get a picture of the complexity. We have 1,700 cases right now in Kershaw County,” he said. “That’s a lot of cases and they all require attention and, quite frankly, we’re drowning in them.”

Johnson said clearing the case load would save the county money by not having to keep suspects in jail.

“I would love to bring another lawyer over here,” he said, but added that good prosecutors are either made, which means hiring the inexperienced and having them learn through the years, or they are bought, meaning an experienced attorney is hired at a higher cost.

Auditor Robin Watkins gave a short presentation, actually asking for $20,000 less in the upcoming fiscal year. Carpenter said all department heads are thrifty with taxpayer money.

“We’ve got great department heads who do not ever put money they do not need in their budget. This is a good example of what they do,” he said of Watkins’ proposal.

Sheriff Jim Matthews, however, said his office needs more deputies patrolling the county and an additional narcotics officer.

“This past year we have experimented with putting deputies on (duty) during the peak call times and it has helped. It certainly hasn’t corrected the problem, but it has helped,” he said. “I’m of the opinion that public safety is one of the constitutional functions of the government. I’m fighting for the funding for us to better do that.”

Matthews said surrounding counties have growing problems with gangs and he believes the illegal drug trade fuels gang activity.

“We are very fortunate so far that they (gangs) don’t have the foothold here that they have in other counties. We don’t want to end up like Richland County, the city of Columbia or Sumter County. We don’t need that here,” he said. “We get huge complaints on narcotics trafficking. A drug dealer in a neighborhood ruins the quality of life in that neighborhood.”

Matthews’ budget request also included more funds allocated to pay fair overtime wages to deputies who put in extra hours. He gave two recent murder cases as examples for when extra time is necessary.

“We can’t say, ‘I’m going home’ and just stop. On those cases we have to roll while we can and the leads are hot,” he said. “We will work within the budget we have. Some deputies never have to work overtime. We’re not going to let somebody just hang around and get a couple of extra hours. If they are told to be someplace when they’re not supposed to be working, that’s when they’ll get overtime.”

Matthews, Carpenter and council also discussed ways to trim costs on vehicle maintenance.

Outgoing Coroner Johnny Fellers said his budget is basically unchanged with a few minor adjustments.

“The biggest thing I see in my office right now is salaries for the part-time employees,” Fellers said. “We’re down to one deputy coroner. We lost one this year because of salary. $150 every two weeks isn’t going to cut it.”

Feller’s request includes $20,000 for deputy coroner salaries: a $5,000 increase for the current deputy and $15,000 to hire another.

Fellers announced earlier this year he is not seeking re-election after serving as coroner for 28 years. David West is the only person to file to run for the office.

Kershaw County Clerk of Courts Joyce MacDonald said security needs to be increased at the courthouse, after a mandate from South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal.

Councilman Jimmy Jones, however, said the solution could be giving better assignment schedules to courthouse deputies rather than simply hiring more.

“I’m a firm believer that throwing money at a situation is not always the answer,” Jones said. “You need to dig down and find what has caused this situation and what can we do to help communicate and correct the situation without always riding the taxpayers’ back.”

Carpenter concluded the meeting with a non-budgetary report. During council’s March 25 meeting, Frank Shumbert of Aircraft Maintenance Services (AMS), made a presentation asking to build a new hangar that would provide space for his business to grow. AMS is a business that leases space from the county at Woodward Field, also known as the Kershaw County Airport. Shumbert estimated the total cost to be as much as $500,000.

Tuesday, Carpenter reported that Shumbert is seeking financing sources for the project. Shumbert had originally signed a 15-year lease with the county that expired in January. He renewed the lease for 90 days while details for the new hangar are worked out. Carpenter said until the financing is secured, Shumbert and the county would renew the lease 90 days at a time, then enter into another multi-year lease.

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