In a letter to the editor Monday, Frank Norton Jr. makes a malicious and reckless claim against what he calls "the sheriff's kingdom" and suggests that the sheriff's office has what he described as "legendary" excess.
It's important to point out several facts. All can be verified through the country's finance department and departmental records.
Your Hall County Sheriff's Office currently answers more than 250,000 calls to service annually. In addition, the department houses an average inmate population in excess of 1,200 per day. This makes the sheriff's office one of the busiest law enforcement agencies in the state.
In fact, if you call for a service provided by the county, you're seven times more likely to call for a service provided by the sheriff's office than any other provide by the county.
At the same time, it is well documented that, according to independent staffing studies, the sheriff's office is well below any minimum staffing levels as defined by experts in the field of law enforcement. And this is before you favor in a furlough program that eliminates an additional 48,000 man hours annually.
This bottom line is that, driven by an ongoing weak economy, population growth and demographic-related issues, there is a greater demand on law enforcement and public safety services than at any time in our history.
If you do a comparative analysis of the Hall County Sheriff's Office against similar departments in similar-sized counties, you'll find that no department in this area provides the level of service at the cost per resident that we have in Hall County. This cost is significantly lower than any other law enforcement agency in the area, but that's not where the financial story ends.
Your sheriff's office has, for the last three years, operated a "board in program," housing inmates from other jurisdictions to general much-needed revenue for the county, in an effort to offset the cost of services. Over the last three years, the program, when combined with other charges related in civil process and records division fees, has generated approximately $21 million. That's an average of nearly $7 million per year, or the equivalent of a full mill tax savings for the county's general fund.
Let me close by addressing Norton's call to stop boarding inmates and mothball certain portions the jail to save money. This suggestion has, as part of the overall budget process, been offered and studied. But the facts are that scrapping the program would enable us to eliminate approximately $1.2 million from our budget and a multitude of headaches associated with the program. But it would cost the county and its residents $6.5 in documented revenues. That's a net loss to the county of $5.3 annually.
It's not hocus pocus. It's not about kingdoms; it's about fulfilling our role in providing for the public's safety in the most cost-effective way, helping with revenues when appropriate and possible and everyone pulling together to provide critical services for our residents.
As always, we welcome any questions or concerns regarding your sheriff's office and will always serve to the best of our abilities.
Steven D. Cronic
Hall County sheriff