12/17/08 — Duplin board fails to address deputy shortage

View Archive

Duplin board fails to address deputy shortage

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on December 17, 2008 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Despite indications that they would again address the growing personnel shortage in the Duplin County Sheriff's Office, little was said Monday about the situation by the county commissioners.

In November, Sheriff Blake Wallace told the commissioners that his seasoned deputies were leaving the county for better paying jobs, and that his remaining ones were having to work beyond their regular hours.

And, he explained, while his budget for this year allows $35,000 for overtime, he has already spent $50,000 -- money, he added, that could be stretched further on a new deputy or jailer.

And so at their first meeting this month, the commissioners agreed to discuss the problem again, with Wallace asking to be allowed to hire four entry-level deputies and a part-time jailer.

He explained that the department's existing budget would cover the new hires who would replace those deputies who have departed, and that the new part-time position would only cost an additional $5,000.

And at that meeting, Commissioner Reginald Wells moved to let the Sheriff fill the five positions.

Then, Commissioner David Fussell tried to amend the motion by saying the county manager must take the $187,000 out of other places in this year's county budget.

That amendment died for lack of a second.

Wells explained that his motion was a matter of public safety.

"It's only $5,000 new money," he said. "That's a no-brainer."

But the vote on Wells' motion to hire the deputies was defeated by a 4-to-2 vote, with only himself and new Commissioner Frances Parks voting to hire the new deputies and jailer. Commissioner Harold Raynor abstained, but his abstention went as a vote with the majority.

County Manager Mike Aldridge reminded the commissioners that the money for the four sworn deputies was already in the the Sheriff's budget.

"We budgeted it in July, and the positions have been vacant for a long time," he said.

Fussell then moved to take the $187,000 from the Event Center or Cabin Lake. Again his motion died for lack of a second.

At that point Commissioner Zettie Williams moved to have Aldridge bring the Sheriff's budget to the next meeting for a final decision. Fussell gave the second. But that vote ended in a 3-to-3 tie, with Ms. Williams, Fussell and Harold Raynor saying yes and Commissioner Chairman Cary Turner, Reginald Wells and Frances Parks saying no.

"Why are we doing this?" Wells asked. "We know the money is there. Us looking at (the Sheriff's budget) is not helping anything. We have to take the Sheriff's word the money is there. We are playing politics with this. The money is there."

Fussell replied, though, that it is not.

"We are not going to have the revenues we thought was going to be there," he said. "Sales taxes are down, tax collectioins are down. And with the school board issue, we're looking at a financial tsunami that is going to take Duplin County into bankruptcy."

But for the sheriff to be able to do his job, Mrs. Parks said, he needs to have the deputies and the jailer.