BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) – The Beaufort County Council has quite a few new members this year, and one of their top priorities is to take a hard look at where taxpayer dollars are going.
Many of their questions surround the biggest budget–the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff PJ Tanner heard some of the questions they were asking at a finance meeting on April 8 and called a special meeting the following week to speak with council members and give some answers.
“We would ask that before councilmembers or anyone make comments… especially in the position that they’re in… is for them to be armed with the knowledge before those comments are made,” Tanner said.
“It’s not knowing the facts, it’s, ‘Okay, I don’t understand so I’m asking the question,’ and everybody has the right to ask the questions,” said Finance Chair and new Councilman Joseph Passiment.
Passiment was the only councilmember to attend, he said: “Two people out of town several of them having meetings right now, and so as chair of finance I chose to be the spokesperson for the group.”
The sheriff’s office has more than 200 employees covering a county with nearly 190,000 people, and it’s budget request this year is $34.5 million.
“Which I’m proud not of,” Tanner told the room. “Some people think it’s an achievement to reach a budget total of that, but there’s a reason surrounding why that budget number is what it is.”
Tanner had his management staff explain their operations, from 150 law enforcement on the streets to 70 staff running emergency management, including natural disasters and call centers.
“For the sheriff’s office we did 340,387 CAD calls. For the city police department in Beaufort 94,857,” Lt. Col. Neal Baxley, Director of Emergency Management, named how many computer-aided dispatch calls they routed for each police and fire department in 2018.
Tanner pointed out the responsibilities they take on for individual municipalities, including radios for every agency and fire department, 911 towers, and the jail.
“There are very high percentages of jails in this state that charge municipalities for inmate stay. That’s something Beaufort County has never done, never even talked about it,” Tanner said.
After the meeting, Passiment said he would continue the conversation with the rest of county council and he expects other agencies to start taking on more financial responsibility soon.
“I think the taxpayers can see that everybody is working together to produce the best possible budget we can for the citizens of Beaufort County,” Passiment said.