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County departments express needs for budget increases
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Increased workloads and a need for more staffing seemed to be a common theme at the April 27, Liberty County Commissioners’ Departmental Budget Presentation. The four hour meeting, which only covered some and not all of the departments, highlighted the impact COVID-19 had on many departments within the County.

Liberty County Coroner Reginald Pierce reported that 2020 had the most fatalities in the County than in previous years.

“We had a total of 33 fatalities in Liberty County,” Pierce said.

The increased case work meant Pierce had to use the refrigeration rooms at the County morgue, funeral home, Liberty Regional Medical Center, Fort Stewart, and Bryan County. He said the increase was primarily due to the pandemic. He requested the commissioner approve transitioning his part-time administrative secretary be moved to full-time status. 

The Liberty County Assessor’s Office also requested that their part-time employee be moved to full-time.

The Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, who have already added 11 new deputies, are requesting additional staff to help with warrants and civil processes. According to LCSO Bureau of Professional Standards, Major Bill Kirkendall, the department has fallen behind in serving warrants due to the pandemic.  They also want to add 10 more deputies to the patrol division.

“Right now we are sitting on 1100 criminal warrants we are unable to serve and some of that is due to the pandemic and restrictions at the jail,” Kirkendall said. “Others is strictly due to manpower availability.”

Kirkendall said the warrants range from felony warrants to misdemeanor. They also requested four additional investigators and two full time patrol deputies. 

Kirkendall said the LCSO has have seized 578 grams of Methamphetamine since March twice of what they seized in all of 2020.

“It should be noted we have a Meth problem,” Kirkendall said. He added the LCSO hopes to add three School Resource Officer positions funded partially by the Board of Education. 

LCSO Bureau of Jail Operations Major David Edwards said they would like to add 12 additional Correctional Officers to help manage the jail inmates.

State Court Judge Jeff Osteen, State Court Solicitor Mark Hendrix, Probate Court Judge Nancy Aspinwall and Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden all mentioned a backlog in cases due to court restrictions put in place from the pandemic. Osteen said despite innovative ways of conducting hearing and certain proceedings they is a lot of catching up that will need to be done that will affect the budgets. 

Hendrix asked for a two percent increase for the three employees in that department.

“The number of cases we are dealing with in that court…is growing exponentially,” Hendrix said. “The workload for those folks has increased and I would like for them to be rewarded accordingly.”

Hendrix said that they have noticed a disturbing trend caused by the pandemic, an increase in domestic violence cases. Durden and Aspinwall echoed Hendrix’s concern.

Aspinwall requested a 6 percent increase to her budget with 50 percent going to building and office improvements. She said her casework, in relations to issuing gun permits and licenses has exploded and could continue to increase under a proposed new gun law.

Aspinwall said they issued 2,020 permits and licenses in 2020 up from 800 the previous year. Right now they’ve issued 725 permits just for the first five months.

“We continued to get busier and busier,” she said. “And yes Mr. Chairman, with the pandemic, we have definitely had an increase of orders to apprehend and get people to crisis centers.”

Durden requested another legal assistant to help them with their case backlog and requested two new vehicles for his department. 

Magistrate court Judge Melinda Anderson said her office also faces a backlog in cases and are still trying to hold proceedings in innovative ways. She requested a lap top to support online hearings. She wants to add a part-time clerk to work on real estate records. 

Tax Commissioner Virgil Jones said his department had an increased expenditure in postage as they encouraged folks to renew their vehicles tags, registrations and property tax payments by mail due to COVID. He said if they allowed residents to also pay property taxes at their Midway office they would need additional personnel to handle the increase.

The meeting was scheduled to continue yesterday with the remaining County Departments presenting their budget needs to the Commissioners. Final approvals of the budgets will take place at a future Commissioners’ meeting.

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