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Sheriffs office gets creative with budget
Money seized through drug enforcement will buy more patrol cars
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Budget hearings
What: Emergency management, fire services, correctional institute, parks and leisure, administration, purchasing, finance and general services/retirement are scheduled for budget hearings.
When: 8:30 a.m. to noon Tuesday
Where: Courthouse Annex, 116 Spring St. SE, Gainesville

Tentative public hearing schedule
June 10: 5 p.m. at Georgia Mountains Center, 301 Main St., Gainesville
June 22: 9 a.m. at Courthouse Annex, 116 Spring St. SE, Gainesville
June 24: 5 p.m. at Georgia Mountains Center, 301 Main St., Gainesville

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office has found a way to buy new patrol cars without increasing its budget a dime — by having area drug dealers finance the purchases.

Col. Jeff Strickland said a partnership with the Drug Enforcement Agency has provided the office with a new source of revenue.

“Not only have we been successful in the fight of drugs coming into Hall County, we share in any assets, seizures or forfeitures,”

Strickland said. “In the last two months, we have been fortunate to receive and share the asset forfeitures that’s going to enable us to purchase, we believe, 16 patrol cars with those funds. That’ll be at no cost to the taxpayer.”

Hall County asked all departments to maintain last year’s budget for fiscal year 2011, which begins July 1. But the sheriff’s office is in desperate need of new vehicles, Strickland said.

Starting in fiscal 2009, the county implemented a number of cost-saving maneuvers, including a freeze on all capital purchases.

“We’ve not been able to purchase any vehicles in the last two budget years,” Strickland said.

He said the sheriff’s office typically replaces patrol cars each year.

“We have a number of vehicles in our patrol division that are over 100,000 miles and even over 125,000 miles. We normally need to replace approximately 20 vehicles a year to keep our fleet in good shape and keep safe automobiles on the street,” Strickland said.

In order to stay within budget, Strickland said the sheriff’s office had to get creative.

“We’ve worked very hard to find alternative methods to fund things we need in these tough economic times,” Strickland said.

The proposed budget for fiscal 2011 is $90.3 million. The approved 2010 budget was $92.7 million.

“Though the recession is ending, the finance department doesn’t expect revenue to bounce back quick enough to have any significant impact on the county’s budget in 2011,” Hall County Public Information Officer Nikki Young said. “The $90.3 million budget we’re operating on now is the lowest we can go without cutting personnel or services.”

The county will continue money-saving efforts started in 2009, including monthly unpaid furlough days, a hiring freeze and no capital purchases.

The county also stopped contributing to employee retirement accounts and eliminated merit and cost-of-living salary increases.

Young said during hearings this week, the departments have been able to stay within their current budgets.

“The department heads have been very cooperative,” Young said. “They’re prepared for another year of living without.”

Personnel makes up a large part of the county’s budget. Young said by continuing current efforts, the county should be able to avoid any further cuts.

“Fortunately we’re not having to make any additional layoffs,” Young said.

There will be a series of public hearings on the budget set for June. The Hall County Board of Commissioners must approve the fiscal 2011 budget and millage rate by July 1.

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