Clayton commission covers deficit in sheriff’s OT budget

Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill’s department blew through its $1 million overtime budget during the past fiscal year by more than $2 million.

“It is excessive,” Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner said Friday. “But then you’ve got to understand that in the public safety field there’ll be times when there’ll be unexpected circumstances that will occur and dictate the use of overtime,” said Turner a former Clayton County police chief.

The sheriff’s department was able to cover most of the excess - about $1.2 million - with money from other parts of its 2015 fiscal year budget, which ended in June, but needed help from the county for the remainder. The county agreed earlier this month to cover the difference, about $867,000 from its general fund

Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Shon Hill who is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the department said Friday the department had no comment.

Turner said he has spoken with Hill in the past few days about the overtime issue. “He told me he’s going to meet with his personnel to try to do something about reducing the amount of overtime spending.”

Deputy Sheriff Shawn Southerland told commissioners that the overtime is due to numerous vacancies in the department, mandatory round-the-clock supervision of hospitalized inmates and the Sheriff’s Clean Community Improvement program. The sheriff’s program has jail inmates cleaning up the community by removing tire debris, graffitti, and sprucing up abandoned properties and the area around the Harold R. Banke Justice Complex.

This isn’t the first time excessive overtime spending has been an issue for the 400-employee department, which has an annual budget of about $22 million.

Turner said that in the 2014 fiscal year the sheriff’s department exceeded its $300,000 overtime budget, which was subsequently increased to $1 million.

The head of a local watchdog group said Friday it’s Hill’s responsiblity to work within the $1 million budget he was initially given.

“That’s news to me but none of it surprises me,” Carl Swensson said when told of the sheriff department’s overtime spending.

“There’s a liability aspect no one’s addressing,” said Swensson, founder of the Clayton County Citizens Oversight Committee, a private watchdog group. “Who exactly is liable for those decisions? Does Sheriff Hill make the decision on behalf of the people and arbitrarily decide on his own that these are valid expeditures or does he work within the strucutre of government as it currently exists to get authorization for these decisions.

Exceeding overtime budgets is not uncommon, said Terry Norris executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association. It usually happens because a sheriff’s department is underfunded, Norris said. Jails often see a good bit of overtime because they’re often understaffed, he noted. For instance, Clayton Sheriff’s Deputy Southerland told commissioners the sheriff’s department currently has about 17 vacancies, most of which are correctional officers.

Norris also noted that once the money has been approved by the county commission “it’s the sheriff’s call” in how he wants to spend it.

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