02/04/09 — Duplin lifts hiring freeze for some public safety jobs

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Duplin lifts hiring freeze for some public safety jobs

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on February 4, 2009 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to lift the county's hiring freeze for positions that affect public safety, specifically the Sheriff's Office, the county's E911 system and the public health department.

Sheriff Blake Wallace asked commissioners Monday to allow him to hire three jailers. He said he was already short on jail staff when two quit and another was fired.

State guidelines recommend 20 detention officers for the jail's four shifts. Wallace said he had 12 before the three left.

And transfers out of other departments will not work in his situation, he said.

"It takes a special person to work in a jail. You can't just pick a person up off the street."

Commissioner Reginald Wells moved to lift the hiring freeze, not just for the sheriff, but for other public safety systems in the county -- E911 and public health -- as well. Commissioner David Fussell gave the second, saying that public safety is a critical service.

The vote was unanimous.

The original purpose of the freeze, Fussell said, was to cut staff through attrition so the county would not have to lay off any employees.

"The hiring freeze has been corrupted," he said. "The purpose was to cut back on non-critical positions. It was never intended to hurt public safety."

In other business, commissioners voted 5-1 to ask all departments -- including public safety -- to find 5 percent to cut out of their current budgets and report the savings back to them at their Feb. 16 meeting. The purpose of the budget cuts was to make up for an anticipated 5 percent cut in state funds next year.

Wells made the motion, saying he did not intend that the 5 percent be taken out of personnel.

Commissioner Harold Raynor seconded the motion.

The department heads will understand, Wells said.

"I have had to make cuts in my own home," he said. "We had to make some personal adjustments. Even in our church. We have to be realists .... We're all going to have to work this thing. If they come back and say they can't do it, fine. Just try."

Fussell cast the dissenting vote.

"A business doesn't cut 5 percent off everything. You cut out non-essentials," he said.

Some departments have already found their 5 percent.

Social Services Director Millie Brown, with the help of county finance officers, discovered $200,000 in savings that commissioners said they would be willing to transfer to the Sheriff's Office to cover rising costs in that department. They approved the transfer at the meeting.

Part of the money would help the sheriff pay for housing inmates outside the county. Those bills have been mounting and Wallace said he expects it reached $240,000 by the end of the fiscal year in June.

The transfer of funds from Social Services would help him reduce that cost to $200,000, he said. And Wallace said he would be able to use the remaining $160,000 for other needs in his department.

Mrs. Brown said she used Medicaid and Work First money that she thinks might not be needed. But if the Medicaid figures go up, she said, she might be back before the commissioners asking for help.

"I'm hoping over the next six months the average will be the same. I'm willing to give it to the sheriff, but if it goes up, I will need it," she said.

Commissioner voted unanimously to approve the transfer.