Council hears of staffing troubles at jail

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

Darlington County Council convened two budget worksessions on June 9 and 11, giving county department heads the chance to appeal for funding changes before council finalizes the $33.2 million budget for fiscal year 2014/15.

During Thursday’s work session, Darlington County Detention Center director Maj. Mitch Stanley asked council to consider his request for $220,000 to pay overtime costs. County administrator Terence Arrington’s recommendation was for OT funding of $170,000. This fiscal year to date, the jail has spent about $267,000 on overtime.

Stanley said overtime costs at the jail are high due to guard staffing shortages, which are caused by two factors: the difficulty of a guard’s job, and the longstanding issue of low pay. Stanley said the jail averages about six open positions per pay period, and noted that at least 32 employees quit during 2014. Further, Stanley said the county has yet to address the ten new guard positions needed to comply with the National Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Stanley said the annual salary of $24,000 for a Darlington County jail guard draws an inexperienced pool of applicants, many of whom quit shortly after they complete training. On previous occasions, Stanley has asked council to raise the base salary for a guard by about $5,000 to match that of a deputy with the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office.

Council member David Coker asked to see figures comparing overtime costs with projected salary costs if such a raise were enacted, and if the county were to fund five to ten new guard positions. Sheriff Wayne Byrd said his staff would make those calculations and provide them for council’s consideration.

Environmental Services director Renee Howle submitted a plan – requested by council – outlining potential savings if all county trash and recycling collection centers were to cut back hours and close on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Under this proposed schedule change, the convenience centers would open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 7 am until 6 pm, and Saturday from 8 am until 6 pm. Savings from this plan, largely in the form of salary reductions, would total roughly $145,500.

Council also discussed the merits of providing a window sticker to identify Darlington County residents wishing to dump trash at county sites, with most agreeing it would be more effective than the current method of asking for photo ID as proof of local residence.

Kathy McDonald of the Darlington County Humane Society asked council to reconsider slashing $50,000 from the animal shelter’s current $151,000 budget. The shelter had requested county funding of $188,450 for the next fiscal year.

McDonald stressed that all county money used at the shelter goes toward providing services required by the state and county, adding that Humane Society animal rescue programs are funded by charitable donations. She said private donations totaled around $62,000 for this past year, and placed total operating costs at $221,600. Further, she provided documentation from the office of the SC Secretary of State confirming that (for fiscal year 2013) the Darlington County Animal Shelter devoted 99.5-percent of its total expenses to program services.

“County funds are only used to pay for those things that are mandated… by the county animal codes and the state animal codes,” said McDonald, counting employee salaries and shelter utilities among those required expenses.

Council member David Coker expressed a desire to continue funding the shelter at present levels, while fellow council member Mozella “Pennie” Nicholson opined that the county needed to prioritize the needs of human citizens over caring for animals.

Arrington asked council whether they preferred his budget ordinance method, which folds all eight proposed budgets into a single ordinance, or if they would rather return to the previous routine of passing each budget in separate ordinances. Council agreed to stick with the single ordinance method for now.

That ordinance, No. 15-21, includes budgets in the following amounts: a general fund of $24,163,914, an Environmental Services fund of $2,716,965, a Fire District Fund of $1,963,370, a Road Maintenance fund of $1,675,000, a County Library fund of $1,352,598, an Emergency Telephone fund of $804,966, a Hartsville Fire Protection District fund of $475,000, and a State Accommodations Tax fund of $60,525.

Darlington County Council is set to hold second reading for the budget on June 15, with a public hearing and final reading scheduled for June 22. Both those meetings will begin at 6 pm at the Courthouse Annex located at 1625 Harry Byrd Hwy in Darlington.

Author: Duane Childers

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