Police Lights

This budget year — it’s not the money that’s the biggest concern for the sheriff’s office and jail.

It’s the people. Not enough of them.

The Madison County Sheriff Office and Jail are woefully understaffed. Sheriff Michael Moore and Chief Deputy Jeffrey Vaughn told commissioners about their personnel shortage during a budget session Monday afternoon.

Vaughn said the department is four deputies short and about to be understaffed by eight jailers.

Madison County commissioners approved raises for public safety, but Vaughn said that since those raises, the office has lost 24 jailers, 14 deputies, two school resource officers and five dispatchers.

Moore and Vaughn said it’s a problem across public safety. Fewer people want to be law enforcement officers these days. Meanwhile, Vaughn said the county is growing and the number of officers on shift throughout the county has stayed the same over the years. He said the office couldn’t expand that if it wanted to right now, because it can’t fill the open positions.

“We can’t ask for a new position, because we can’t fill the one we got,” he said.

Other counties with more revenues are in the same crunch and raising wages to fill positions. So there’s difficulty in keeping pay comparable with neighboring departments.

The high turnover rate also costs the department in terms of uniforms. Vaughn said it costs $1,200 to outfit a new officer if there aren’t already uniforms that fit him or her.

Commissioner Brian Kirk, a long-time Danielsville Volunteer Fireman, said the problem is true for the volunteer fire departments, too, who are having trouble finding volunteers.

The BOC will consider a retirement plan for deputies like the one recently approved for EMS, where employees contribute a portion of their salaries. It is not matched by the county.

In a separate matter, Moore and Vaughn talked about a mold problem at the jail that is rooted in condensation buildup in its HVAC unit. A cleaning and sterilizing job will run approximately $45,000. The board may consider federal CARES Act money for that job.

The sheriff’s office has requested $2.78 million for the department, $2.4 million for the jail, $945,000 for 911 and $71,000 for C.H.A.M.P.S.

EMS director Bobby Smith also spoke to county commissioners Monday. He said EMS is facing the same staffing pressures as law enforcement, noting that paramedics are leaving for higher-paying jobs at hospitals, but he said Madison County is in much better shape than many other counties in terms of EMS. He said EMS response times in the county average eight minutes, which is much quicker than the lengthy waits reported elsewhere.

EMS plans to replace an ambulance in 2022. The board asked Smith to provide a schedule on capital outlay costs that will be needed as vehicles and equipment ages. He said he would do that.

Madison County plans to construct a new EMS station in Comer, but commission chairman Todd Higdon and Smith both said lining up contractors to do the work has been impossible.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Higdon.

Smith said that he was shocked to see that costs for a stick-built EMS station are lower than a butler building.


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