The sheriff of Dawson County said his department no longer can properly serve the county’s citizens because of a lack of money for his department.
In an email sent to all sheriff’s department employees on May 13 and obtained by the Dawson News & Advertiser, Billy Carlisle expressed his appreciation to his staff and his frustration with county officials.
“I just want everyone to know that I have had enough and refuse to sit back and watch this Sheriff’s Office and this county be destroyed because of the failure of our county leaders to stand up and do the job they were elected to do,” Carlisle wrote.
And he has retained the law firm of Steven Leibel, a first for the veteran sheriff, to review his department’s budget before it is submitted to the county’s board of commissioners on June 1.
“It is our plan to ask the board of commissioners to raise the salaries of all employees of the sheriff’s office to be comparable with the surrounding counties,” he said. “We will also be asking for more officers to be hired in all divisions along with the much needed equipment that we have had to do without over the past years.”
Dawson County Commission Chair Mike Berg responded on behalf of the board of commissioners.
“The board of commissioners has not received any formal notifications of the sheriff’s intent,” Berg said. “In the past, the board and sheriff have had a team approach and an open line of communications. Any outside representation will have cost implications.”
Attorney Leibel was reached for comment at his office.
“My fee for Sheriff Carlisle, because he is an elected official, is $150 per hour,” he said. “I wanted to match the county attorney’s fees and extend that rate to him and to help the taxpayers. That is not my normal hourly rate, which is much higher.”
Those fees would be paid out of the Dawson County Sheriff’s office budget.
“We need manpower and equipment,” Carlisle said. “We don’t have the manpower to continue answering calls and serving the county the way we need to. We can’t even retain the manpower we’ve got.”
Finanical problems are at the root of issues inside the sheriff’s department. According to Carlisle, deputies are leaving for higher-paying jobs in nearby counties, such as Forsyth, vehicles and equipment are aging and breaking down, and departments including the jail and courthouse are understaffed.
“My people have been great, but they are taking on more responsibilities,” the sheriff said. “They are working on their days off. They are coming in to work sick because we don’t have the manpower. And they aren’t going to keep waiting. It’s taking a toll on them.”
The sheriff’s department is losing, on average, one deputy each week to other counties who are actively pursuing them. Those counties, Carlisle said, are paying $5,000 to $7,000 or more for jobs with less responsibility and better benefits.
“I just lost one of my road sergeants who was here 12 years, and she went to Forsyth for $5,000 more,” Carlisle said. “Here, she was in charge of a whole shift. Down there she’s not, but she’s making more money. And I have another deputy this week going on a job interview. . . . This office is imploding.”
Dawson County Tax Commissioner Linda Townley said something needs to be done.
“Our employees deserve to be properly compensated,” she said. “I have a part-time, well-trained employee that I need to go full-time, but I can’t. They offered to pay her a beginner’s salary, but she’s been here a year.”
Dawson County officials expect the results of a salary study to be completed in the next few weeks.
“It has been suggested that salaries are an issue,” Berg said. “The board approved funds for a 2014 county government salary study and salary adjustments. ... At this time, the board will continue its normal budget process.”
The county’s last salary study was conducted in 2004.
“That study was completely useless,” Townley said. “Nothing was done. They compared us to like-size counties, which might make sense if we were surrounded by like-size counties. But, if my ladies decided to leave, they can go to Hall or Forsyth counties and make substantially more money, in some cases.”
Sheriff’s department needs
Sheriff Carlisle said he needs another 10 to 12 employees department-wide to help with current call volume.
The department has 98 full-time employees, including those at its 911 center. There are no part-time employees, according to County Manager Cindy Campell.
“We’re six short in the jail right now,” Carlisle said.
The sheriff thinks the county is setting itself up for lawsuits and pointed to a recent event.
Yesterday, he said, an inmate at the Dawson County Jail cut his own arm with a razor blade. The injuries required an overnight stay at a hospital.
Razors are issued to inmates once a week for shaving. Protocol requires that deputies collect the razors afterwards.
“What happened was, we had an inexperienced deputy who didn’t notice he got the handle back but not the blade,” Carlisle said. “If we had an experienced officer in there, we would have caught that. The county may be paying for that.
“We also can’t do a good jail search.”
The inmate has been treated and released from the hospital.
Carlisle began serving as sheriff Jan. 1, 1997. He served as a sheriff’s deputy for 10 years prior to being elected.
“Also, at the (new) courthouse, I should have 12 employees assigned, and I’ve got eight,” he said. “I’m not asking for the moon. I’m asking for what I need to run this department and to protect the citizens of Dawson County.
“Other department heads are saying the same thing. They can’t do their jobs because of a lack of manpower.”
Budget hearings begin June 1.
Long time Dawson County resident and owner of Pick n’ Grin music, Mike Waller, said the department needs to cut back on employees.
“If they were to cut back on employees, and give the other deputies raises, it’d be all right,” Waller said. “It ain’t about manpower, it’s about quality manpower.” Waller has lived in Dawson County 21 years and owned property here for 30 years.
Another long time resident, Dianne Long, said she’s lived in Dawson County 27 years.
“I’d pay a few extra dollars in taxes for the sheriff’s department if they really needed it.”