By Joel Hall
The Clayton Regional Law Enforcement Academy has been eliminated from the county's proposed fiscal 2011 budget. Removal of the police training agency is one of many changes by the Clayton County Board of Commissioners to plug a $9 million hole in the county's budget.
Other expense reductions include: Outsourcing the planning functions of the Planning and Zoning Department, and eliminating all funding to the Keep Clayton County Clean and Beautiful, Inc., program.
While county employees will not face a 4 percent, across-the-board salary cut, there will be four, mandatory furlough days during the next fiscal year. In addition, the county will have a three-month hiring freeze, estimated to save $1.16 million.
The series of moves, introduced by BOC Vice Chairman Wole Ralph, were narrowly adopted by a 3-2 vote. BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell and Commissioner Michael Edmondson opposed them. The budget was adopted by a 4-1 vote, with Bell opposed.
In another action, commissioners voted 3-2 to close the police academy by Aug. 1, and review the county's pension plan and vehicle-use policy for potential savings. Bell and Edmondson opposed the actions.
Ralph criticized Bell, saying he delayed submitting a budget until just two weeks before the June 30 deadline for its adoption. "If the board had gotten the budget in May, we could have had a month of discussion," Ralph told Bell, during Tuesday's special called meeting to adopt the budget. "Given the two weeks we had to deal with a $9 million hole, this was the best we could do," he said.
"We were able to severely mitigate the pain to the employee," Ralph said after the meeting.
The amended budget anticipates savings of: $1.5 million, by instituting the furlough days; $1.16 million from the hiring freeze; $2 million from changing health-care providers; $1.47 million in workers compensation adjustments; $500,000 in an anticipated reduction of legal fees; $250,000 from closing the police academy; $212,346 by outsourcing county planning; $120,000 by eliminating a grant writer position; $120,000 by eliminating a county lobbyist position; $115,000 by eliminating the Keep Clayton County Beautiful, Inc., program; and $6,375 by reducing office equipment, computers, and furnishings within the Technical Services Division.
In addition, the amended budget anticipates an additional: $1 million in Local Option Sales Tax revenues; $768,000 in new driver's license fees; and $724,784 in unclaimed personal property taxes.
Additional spending in the amended budget will include $221,286 to add three instructor positions at the police department, and $114,000 to the Sheriff's Department for equipment and supplies.
While the amended budget envisions new revenue streams, it reduces the county's total spending by about $2 million, from $168.8 million in Bell's proposed budget, to $166.6 million in the amended budget. Bell said he believes the amended budget relies too much on "estimates," rather than thoughtful cuts.
"The cuts could have had a wider breath," he said. "I was trying to push them in that direction. It would have forced us to look at our spending, so we could give a no-percent cut as opposed to a 4 percent cut. We can't play games with the estimates."
Bell blamed the county's current finance reporting procedures for bottlenecking the budgetary process. "For all intents and purposes, the budget process doesn't start for me until April," he said. "That gives me less than two months to talk to all the department heads, see what they want, and see what we might be able to cut. I would like a great deal more time to deal with the budget. If we were getting reports all year long, it would be much easier."
Bell said the amended budget's implications on the police academy will bring suspicion upon the county, given its recent investigation of former Police Chief Jeff Turner, and his reassignment as the academy's director in December of last year.
Bell said the county never concluded it's investigation of Turner, and the elimination of the academy could be perceived as pettiness on behalf of the county.
"It's not necessary," to eliminate the academy, he said. "If you are unhappy with the person in charge of the academy, deal with that. This is no way to run a county, where you leave those kind of suspicions on the table."
Ralph said the amended budget would only eliminate the "regional aspect" of police training in Clayton, and would keep the county from "subsidizing police officers" in other counties. He said Turner and other staff in the academy would have the chance to apply for the new training positions within the police department.
Turner said he was unaware of the county's decision to eliminate the academy until Tuesday night. "All this caught me off guard, once again," he said. "I don't know what their intentions are for me and my staff. I just have to wait and see. Training is very important in law enforcement, and I think we serve a vital role."
Turner said he oversees three lieutenants, one captain, and a secretary in the police academy.