Lexington County sheriff shelves expansion plan

tflach@thestate.comMay 6, 2014 

Lexington County Sheriff James Metts waves to the crowd from the back of a classic Cadillac Eldorado convertible. State and local politicians participate in the annual parade.

ROB THOMPSON — rthompson@thestate.com Buy Photo

— Tight finances are forcing Lexington County Sheriff James Metts to shelve an expansion aimed at keeping pace with steady growth and shortening response to calls for help.

The 2-year-old plan is suspended indefinitely because it’s unlikely money for it will be available soon, Col. Allan Paavel, top Metts aide, told County Council members Tuesday.

Improving public safety remains a top goal, but achieving it is becoming harder as state aid declines and property tax growth slows, some council members said.

“There’s no magic here,” Council Chairman Johnny Jeffcoat of Irmo said.

It makes no sense to pursue expansion amid the current scramble to cover rising cost of routine operations, Paavel said.

“The cost of doing business is going up,” he said, citing higher prices for fuel, technology, equipment upkeep, and medical care and meals for prisoners.

Meanwhile, Metts is “pushing our people to the limit” to do more with less, he said.

“We can only continue to get by so long,” Paavel said. “We don’t want to take a step backwards.”

Replacing vehicles and equipment is on hold during the next year to scrape by, he said.

Metts sought to add nearly 130 deputies by 2020, bringing the total to about 375.

In the past two years, he received council approval to add nine, less than a third of what he sought. A half dozen more deputies were added as school resource officers, with schools paying the tab for that protection.

More deputies are vital to handle increasing calls for help and to lower response time to 10 minutes from 15, he has said. He also wants to open a DNA analysis laboratory to speed up detection of evidence.

Other public safety officials pleaded for 10 more firefighters, 10 more paramedics and four more 911 emergency dispatchers – increases they said are necessary as calls for assistance increase.

Those are “things we actually need” but money for them is scarce, Jeffcoat said.

The maximum tax increase allowed under a state cap is slightly less than $10 on a home valued at $100,000 for taxes.

That would produce about $2.4 million extra, less than half of what’s needed to pay for the public safety staff increases wanted.

In addition, public works officials are seeking to pave more dirt roads at a cost of $4.5 million.

No property tax hike is included so far in a $112.4 million spending plan for the year starting July 1 that is taking shape.

Council members gave no hint if it that is likely, with Councilman Todd Cullum of Cayce saying it will be “pick and choose” among many worthy requests.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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