‘This agency is at risk’: DeKalb sheriff pushes for more funding

Millions more needed for increased pay and maintenance, Melody Maddox says
DeKalb Sheriff Melody Maddox

Credit: Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

DeKalb Sheriff Melody Maddox

DeKalb Sheriff Melody Maddox is asking for millions more than the county administration recommended for her 2022 budget — money she says is needed to help recruit and retain employees and address issues at a jail in dire need of maintenance.

“Everything that I’m asking for, it’s for safety and security,” Maddox said. “We are at risk here. This agency is at risk.”

According to presentation during a Thursday afternoon meeting with county officials, Maddox is requesting about $90.7 million for her agency’s annual budget. The sheriff’s request includes about $6 million more than the county proposed for salaries and benefits, an amount that would cover significant raises that Maddox has already promised for hundreds of existing employees and new hires.

The sheriff has said her agency lost more than 100 employees in 2021 alone and more competitive pay is needed to attract and keep deputies and jailers.

Maddox’s budget request also includes about $3 million in additional funding for capital improvements at the jail, which her agency is tasked with running. Few specifics about where that money would go were discussed Thursday, but Chief Deputy Randy Akies described the jail as a “deteriorating facility” that is “in grave need of being addressed.”

The physical state of the jail, combined with staffing shortages and court backlogs that keep pretrial detainees locked up longer than usual, makes it unsafe for everyone, Akies and Maddox said.

Some cell locks have been “damaged into disrepair” and inmates intentionally clogging toilets and setting fires help feed a myriad of issues, from mold to increased amounts of contraband making their way into the jail, the sheriff said.

“Everybody deserves to be safe. These inmates deserve to be safe here,” Maddox said. “What I’m asking for in this budget is to get us rolling, to get us started in order to make sure we get what we need in order to fulfill my constitutional obligation.”

Several members of the DeKalb Board of Commissioners, which approves the county’s annual budget, expressed support for the sheriff’s requests and said more conversations were needed.

Zach Williams, the county’s chief operating officer, was noncommittal. But he said a team has been looking into physical issues at the jail for several weeks and potential solutions were being explored.

Williams said little about the money requested to continue sheriff’s department pay raises. The administration and the sheriff have already clashed on the issue; Maddox reallocated money from other areas of her budget to put the pay bumps in place late last year.

“We’re not dismissing any of the needs that are being articulated,” Williams said Thursday. “We take them seriously and want to make sure that we have a jail that [the sheriff] can be proud of.”