Proposed budget cuts could threaten public safety - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Proposed budget cuts could threaten public safety

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Dougherty County Police Chief Don Cheek Dougherty County Police Chief Don Cheek

If county workers are furloughed for 12 days, county police will be on the streets five thousand fewer hours a year, and the Dougherty EMS Director says the cuts will affect the county's ability to hire quality paramedics. The county is proposing the furlough days to trim one million dollars from the budget.

Dougherty County Police Chief Don Cheek already has a tough time recruiting and holding on to quality officers. Why? The pay. The most an officer starts out making is only $13.07 an hour, just over $27,000 a year. Of course that's before taxes and benefits are taken out, and with another 12 furlough days, officers will be losing another 5% of their pay.

Chief Cheek wants the public to know right now, if 12 furlough days are forced upon his officers, county residents will see a reduction in service. 

"The services are going to be decreased. There's no way around it. When we take 5,000 hours of law enforcement coverage off the street, there's going to be a suffering at some point in time."

And with the cost of health insurance growing and furlough days looming, Chief Cheek worries he'll lose officers, and won't be able to recruit new ones.  "It's going to be difficult to recruit officers when they're being told, not only are you not getting certain benefits, but we're taking certain benefits away."

And many other law enforcement agencies are offering higher pay, including APD, which starts three dollars an hour higher and also is giving signing bonuses to POST certified officers.  "We have got fine officers, we've got a great staff of people and they do an exceptional job for this community, but they do have to weigh what's best for them financially for their families."

Dougherty EMS will also be impacted. The county administrator is working on a plan that will not take any ambulances out of service, but it's cutting it close.  "As far as EMS service is to the public, there will be no change,"  said EMS Director Bobby Tripp.

And while the citizens they serve may not notice a difference, employees will, in their paychecks. "That hits our people real hard and you know our people are already working, most all of them, are already working two jobs now. What it means for them is they're maybe going to have to work three jobs."

Tripp says he realizes the county is in a bind, but binding his hands to keep quality workers and recruit new ones is a difficult place to be.  "We're only as good as the quality of people we have. Are we going to be able to hire good people anymore? So, I have a real concern about that part of it."

Concern about keeping quality people and providing quality service to county residents.

In addition to facing furloughs, county employees are facing more bad news. Health insurance premiums are increasing, as much as $170 per month for some family plans.

While insurance increases have been finalized, the budget for next year has not, which means furloughs are not definite even though they are being suggested by the county administrator.

The county commission can still cut other expenses, like the $250,000 a year they give to the Flint Riverquarium. The county finance committee will be meeting twice a week this month May to discuss the upcoming budget.