COMMENTS REGARDING THE FUNDING OF THE SHERIFF’S
The New Hanover County Sheriff is a duly elected official and
operates as a separate entity, however the office of the Sheriff
receives its funding primarily from the taxpayers of New Hanover
County by means of the Ad Valorem Tax which is currently set at
68 cents per $100 of real property value.
Real estate values have increased dramatically over the past few
years. The county has seen stellar growth and housing starts have
soared. This adds generously to the existing tax base of 19.4
Each penny of increase in tax is worth 1.9 million dollars to
the general fund.
The County is recommending a 7.8% increase in the 2007 budget.
This is an 18.5 million dollar increase.
WHERE DOES NEW HANOVER COUNTY RANK IN TAXING ITS CITIZENS?
The John Locke Foundation says that New Hanover County places
the 2nd in the State in placing the highest burden on the taxpayers
with a figure of $1,919.39 of local revenues per capita. It places
the county at 3rd with $1,120.90 in property tax burden per capita
and is also third highest in sales tax.
HOW MUCH OF A BURDEN IS THE SHERIFF’S REQUEST?
New Hanover County Sheriff Sid Causey is asking for 30 million
dollars this year. Last year his budget was 27 million dollars.
In 2005 it was 25 million, which was a 14% increase over the year
before that. The increase was mostly due to the need to add more
detention officers even though the new jail facility was suppose
to cut back on the need for personnel. In the 2002- 2003 county
budget the sheriff requested extra funds to handle the departments
overtime pay created by, as Causey said, the extra hours brought
on because of September 11, 2001. The 2001-02 budget was the year
that taxes went up 8 cents to 69 cents per $100 of value, needed
to service the 193.9 million dollar budget. The 2006-2007 budget
is asking for $256,859,547.
ARE THE SHERIFF’S EMPLOYEES PROPERLY COMPENSATED?
All departments looking for funding have their need. In 2002,
the sheriff needed extra money to handle the overtime. In 2000,
Sheriff Joe McQueen wanted an increase in his budget to fund pay
raises for the department’s deputies, claiming he was losing
his hires to the local police department. Yet according to a June
7, 2000 Wilmington Star News article in which he was corrected,
there was no disparity between the two agencies. This was the
year that the taxes were 56 cents on $100 worth of property to
cover a budget of 172.1 million dollars. The Sheriff does not
have to worry about employees being unhappy with their wages.
There are over 300 employees, 30 of which are making over $50,000
per year, 91 make between 40 and $50,000 a year, and overtime
paid to the deputies totaled for the first three quarters of the
fiscal year, just under one million dollars. A few deputies are
actually making upwards of 25% of their salary from overtime pay.
Yet turnover continues to be high at the Sheriff’s Office
and as Chief Deputy Tom Parker stated, “Every new deputy
takes over $10,000 to train”.
AS THE COUNTY SHERIFF’S TERRITORY SHRINKS IS THERE
A NEED TO RAISE THE BUDGET?
Taxes are increasing and needs seem to be the same, at least at
the Sheriff’s Office. Every year the same requests are being
asked for and funded. The Sheriff’s Office has grown, while
the territory has been gobbled up by the City. Services are duplicated
between the Sheriff and the Wilmington Police Department. A consolidation
of the two agencies warrants legitimate discussion, the City and
County law enforcement agencies are presently chasing the same
suspects. Crime knows no boundary.
HOW DOES THE SHERIFF’S BUDGET COMPARE TO OTHER SHERIFF’S
BUDGETS IN THE STATE?
In examining the budget of 6 other county sheriff offices it was
found that New Hanover County exceeds the normal spending levels
of Buncombe, Cumberland, Durham, Gaston, Harnett, and Wake Counties.
For instance, the New Hanover County Jail has an annual cost of
$27,000 per inmate held in custody. Buncombe cost per inmate is
$22,000, Cumberland is $19,000, Durham $16,000, Harnett $15,000,
IS THERE ONE SINGLE EXAMPLE OF WASTEFUL SPENDING BY THE
The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office is perhaps, one
of the most heavily funded Sheriff’s Offices in the State
and yet more tax money continues to pour into its coffers. Continuing
to feed the unsubstantiated requests for more funds is like feeding
glazed donuts to a grossly obese, diabetic child.
After review of the Sheriff’s budget several observations
of questionable spending were made, some small as a few thousand
dollars a month in wasteful spending and one expense that could
save taxpayers over one million dollars. There does not seem to
be any intentional deception on the part of the Sheriff. It seems
to be merely of a lack of responsible management.
The biggest questionable item seeming to be a considerable waste
of money is the contract with the company that is handling the
inmates’ health needs. New Hanover County has a contract
with Prison Health Services that is over one million dollars more
than a similar contract between Prison
Health Services and Gaston County. Gaston County has a population
of 194,000 people. New Hanover has 174,000 people. Gaston County
has 81,000 homes, New Hanover has 83,000. Both jails handle nearly
the same number of inmates. The contracts are nearly identical
in regards to services. Yet New Hanover County pays $1,990,354
and Gaston County contracted for $714,743. Cumberland County has
budgeted $1,200,000 to handle the health needs of its 500 daily
average inmates, $700,000 less than New Hanover County.
WHO SUFFERS IF THE SHERIFF’S REQUEST FOR FUNDING IS GRANTED?
The 2006-2007 proposed budget has items of requests from various
non-county agencies. Human services organizations such as the
Good Shepard Ministry requested $2,000 to assist in the shelter
and feeding of the homeless population is recommended not to be
funded. The Food Bank’s request for $30,000 is being denied.
Cape Fear Volunteer Center’s request will also not be funded
by the county due to other agencies gobbling up the county’s
funds. The Courts took a 10% hit, Juvenile Services budget went
from 1.6 million to $500,000. Public Safety Communications budget
shrank from 4.8 to 3.5 million dollars. And there was virtually
no increase in the Department of Social Services budget.
Many worthy causes are desperately in need of funding. Yet there
seems to be none available even with so many tax increases.
IS THERE A SOLUTION?
Perhaps a Commission can be authorized to study the possibility
of consolidating the City and County Law Enforcement Agencies.
When impartially judicious eyes study the budgets of the two agencies,
line-by-line, it is quite possible that an effective solution
can be launched in order to save the taxpayers the hardship of
wasteful county spending. It could be that as the demands for
security grow in the courts and governmental offices and the need
to house, care for, and transport the ever growing inmate population
causes strains on the departmental focus for the essential enforcement
of the State laws and Statutes, time may have come to limit the
Sheriff to his constitutional responsibilities and allow the City
to take over some of the responsibility the Wilmington Police
Department has proved so effectively be able to carry.
There is, as County Manager Bruce Shell put it, more than one
way to skin a budget.