With nearly every county department operating on reduced budgets, Sheriff Clark Millsap has an optimistic view on challenges he and his employees face with tight funds. The full-service law enforcement agency is responsible for the patrol, criminal investigations, jail and warrant/court/civil divisions along with the Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force and E-911, stretching its roughly 250 employees across all pieces of the puzzle.
"As our population continues to grow, law enforcement and public safety in general -- fire, EMS -- everything has to grow with it and that's where the money comes in," Millsap said. "People are not going to work for free, equipment is not cheap, and the prices of everything is going up and the chances to get tax revenues is going down.
"Our budget is $19.3 million for 2012 [and] our biggest problem is trying to stay under budget. Money is so tight and I'm a half-full kind of guy. ... I'm an optimist, but sometimes you have to be a realist and reality is, 'Where is the money going to come from?' My overall budget is $19.3 million, and as of April 18, we've already spent $4,368,081.37 on expenditures so far, that includes salaries, that includes everything that you see in the line items."
The Emergency 911 division is budgeted $2 million for the constant operations of taking and dispatching calls. With 28 total employees rotating 12-hour shifts, $950,000 is designated for salaries. The division's two largest line items are for communication purposes with $172,000 for telephone expenses and $165,000 for wireless provider costs. Repair and maintenance on the 911 radios also claims a big chunk at $130,000.
"Because we dispatch for all the agencies, there are things that we are responsible for," Maj. Jessica Pruett said. "There's a lot of equipment that we have and that allows us to dispatch for those agencies and allows them to communicate back to us, which is very important."
Excluding the 911 division, $9.3 million of the sheriff's budget is designated to salaries for the 250-plus employees. However, a disaster such as the area saw in 2011, or a major case, could easily cause that number to rise unexpectedly.
"All the overtime we had during the tornado [can change the salary budget]. Nobody expected two tornadoes to come through Bartow County within two hours of each other and wreak havoc," Millsap said. "You don't know. We could have a major case come up tonight.
"Let's say one of my officers goes out tonight because someone was digging in their yard and found bones, and we find out they're human bones and beside them is another body and beside them is another body and we've got this pattern of five or six bodies buried in the cellar. Then we're going to launch an investigation. GBI and everybody else is gonna come in, and we're probably gonna be tied up to have to protect the crime scene.
"You've got those unknowns that happen, and when you look around next year or at the end of this year, well, you're over budget $200,000. There is no way that you can run a law enforcement agency or a fire department or an EMS or any other type like that without some overtime. ... Look at the water department. Look at the road department. When you have a busted water line on Saturday, what happens? The on-call workers for the county come in and they fix it. It's just so hard to predict."
As Millsap explained every call holds an unpredictable outcome, repairs to equipment and general maintenance can hold unknowns, too.
"Our biggest hit is we're having to replace our hot water heater," Millsap said. "The hot water heater was 20 years old. We had fixed this, replaced that, fixed this to the point where it can't be fixed anymore. That's one of those things that pop up you can't expect."
The hot water heater would fall under the department's line for repair and maintenance to buildings and grounds, which is $275,000. Other lines for repair include radios, heating and air, office equipment and vehicles. With vehicles, though, the department was able to purchase seven pre-owned patrol units for this year to replace the older models in the fleet.
"We bought nine ranging from 22,000 to 54,000 miles," Millsap said. "With one man driving one car, it will last 150,000, 160,000 miles. That's one reason we've been able to survive with the patrol cars we've been buying. One man's driving it. He drives it for two days, it sits still for three days, he drives it for two days it sits for two days and that cycle. Before, one car was running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. How long do you think that car would last? About a year.
"These officers having one car assigned to them, a take-home car, not only is it a crime deterrent -- if you pull in a neighborhood and see a patrol car sitting there I'm not gonna burglarize that neighborhood I'm gonna leave. It's also, when an officer goes in service from his house, he's already in the county. I've got a few outside the county line, but as soon as he hits the county line, he's working."
Although pre-owned vehicles were purchased, the department will be able to buy new vehicles in 2014 when the new Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax takes affect. According to Millsap, $2 million will be allotted to the sheriff's office to be used only for vehicle purchases.
Operating costs for the jail and headquarters are a high expense within the budget, with $120,000 for water and sewage, $100,000 for natural gas and $400,000 for electricity. Medical costs are a necessary expense for inmates as well with a combined $65,000 for medical bills that could be accrued from services outside the jail's facility and $2,000 for medication.
"Doctor fees are anything that we have to do outside this agency. We have a full 24/7 medical department, but we don't have X-ray, we don't have other things like that so then we would have to take them somewhere else," Millsap said. "Hospital [charges are] if they've got to spend the night. There are some people that come in here that are really, really sick. [We have a plan here where] they're co-pay is $5 to see a doctor, $5 to see a nurse and $5 for a prescription. We started that because it's not right that we should pay for them just because they broke the law and they're locked up. If there's money on their books we'll take that out and pay it, but there's indigents in here that [taxpayers] have to pay for because if they're indigent then we have to provide that for them.
"We had one guy recently his hospital bill was off the chart because he had a massive [heart attack] back here and the ambulance came and got him. ... There are some things you have to be reactive to -- you can't be proactive and expect every prisoner back here to be in perfect health when they come in here."
While Millsap says there are many things the department must be reactive about, the office has a goal to be proactive as well with lines in the budget to assist in public education. Crime prevention is budgeted at $1,500 for the printing of pamphlets and other tools while the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program receives $35,000 for their supplies.
In an effort to conserve taxpayer money, the department holds contracts for certain services brought into the jail, such as food and medical care as well as prisoner transportation. The services for medical and food fall under the line item of $2.3 million for professional fees along with situations where the Georgia Bureau of Investigation or the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives must be called in to assist with a case.
"That's a huge line item. Anybody that's higher than us charges us for a service," Millsap said, referencing the situations when state and federal agencies must be called for assistance. "We have Trinity Food Services and they keep food for seven days at this location. [Inmates] get a hot meal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and a hot meal for dinner [and Trinity] always [has] seven to 10 days of food here."
Transport of prisoners falls under a separate line of $70,000 for the contracted service, which prevents officers from driving long distances to retrieve prisoners. The company establishes a route through various states when picking up prisoners and drops them off at various agencies along the way back to their original starting point.
"That's a different circumstance from us going to get them," Millsap said. "We have a contract with Prisoner Transport Services, and the reason is, it saves us money. If I have to send someone to Kentucky, Ohio, New York, I have to pay two deputies for overtime, food, lodging."
The transport service does not apply to in-state retrievals or if the distance is less than two days round-trip.
Apart from gasoline for patrol vehicles -- which is set at $300,000 -- one of the larger line items goes to uniforms at $165,000.
"We do uniform purchases twice a year and sometimes you have a special occasion where you go into the briar patch and tear your shirt or get in a fight and tear the shirt or get blood on it," Millsap said. "We'll replace them as they go. That's pants, shirts, boots, leather gear, accessories to go with belt. These guys take care of their stuff because they're proud of what they look like. I can't ask for a better crew."
A shirt for the uniform costs $29.95 and one pair of pants is $35.
Overall, the department works to control and stay within budget limitations. Yet, some moments are impossible to predict, making the department's efforts even more challenging.
"It's just so hard to predict. Our biggest problem right now is there's no money coming in this county. There's a lot of people not paying their taxes [and] it's tough trying to make sure the services we provide are provided but at the same time providing them as inexpensive as possible.
"We're doing everything that we can not just to save taxpayer's money, but at the same time, we're providing what I think and what I believe and been told is the best law enforcement money can buy."