Long County Sheriff Cecil Nobles recently addressed the Long County Commission, urging it to consider building a jail and reinforcing his views on the proposed wrecker guidelines.
Nobles has been requesting a jail for more than two years. The sheriff said the need has not gone away and will not go away in the future.
The wrecker issue also has been brought to the attention of the sheriff’s office and the commissioners for several months.
“Yesterday, we had 54 (prisoners) in jail, and our population is continuing to go up,” Nobles said. “We have warrants right now for 100, to put them in jail, but we can’t afford to put 100 more prisoners in jail.”
Commission Chairman Bobby Walker agreed with the sheriff, saying the county can’t afford to pay other county jails to house an additional 100 inmates. He also said the sheriff has to do his job to protect the county and make as many arrests as necessary.
“We’re the only county of our size (in Georgia) without a jail,” Nobles said.
The sheriff said he researched finance options and found funding available for a loan rate of 4 percent.
“We need to seek more funding options (for a jail) because our tax base can’t afford it,” Walker said.
After a brief discussion, commissioners agreed they would continue to look for funding options and consider building a jail.
Nobles also sent a letter to the commission regarding the long-standing issue of establishing wrecker/towing guidelines.
In the letter, the sheriff said his overriding concern was “the safety of everyone who relies on the LCSO to assist them in obtaining towing operations for their personal property.”
With this in mind, Nobles said he was requiring background checks on all tow operators transporting vehicles in the county.
He said if any operators are convicted felons or had been arrested and found guilty of certain other crimes, they were “not suitable” to be entrusted with personal property belonging to members of the public.
According to the letter, a provision with this matter was included in the Liberty County ordinance. Nobles said he believes it should be included in the Long County ordinance as well.
In April, the commission told Towriffic Towing owner Bruce Ballance that his towing company would be placed on the call list at the E-911 Wiregrass Center that serves Long County. At the most recent meeting, Ballance told commissioners that he still was not on the list.
“I think this is personal, not business. If ya’ll don’t take it out of (Nobles’) hands, I’ll never get on the list,” Ballance said.
The owner said he feels like he is being discriminated against for mistakes he made in the past and that it isn’t fair.
“I called the E-911 center, and they told me I was not on the list — that I had not been approved,” Ballance said. “They said that for me to be on the list, I had to be approved by the sheriff.
“I’m on the Georgia State Patrol list and the military police list. As far as I’m concerned, this is personal,” he continued. “The sheriff doesn’t want me on the list, and he is doing everything he can to keep me off the list.”
On Monday, Nobles said, “I have nothing personal against Bruce. I have stated that I believed we needed to model our ordinance after the one in Liberty County, and a part of that ordinance states that a background check needs to be done on the operators to make sure that the people who are taking possession of these vehicles can be trusted.
“These operators also, on many occasions, give the owner of the vehicles rides back to their shops,” he continued. “When we call for one of these two trucks, we’re saying that we have checked these operators out and are endorsing using them. If that is the case, we have got to make sure that the public’s best interest is in mind.
“I’m responsible for the vehicles that are towed, and as long as I am the sheriff, anyone with a felony on their record won’t tow for our county,” Nobles said.
Also on Monday, Walker said, the commission met and came to an agreement on how to resolve the issue.
According to Walker, the decision made in April to approve Towriffic Towing to transport vehicles for Long County still stands.
However, he said the commission also agreed that any operators or drivers who run calls for their towing businesses will have background checks conducted on them. People who have been convicted of a felony cannot respond to calls for Long County.
“Any wrecker company that meets the guidelines that the county sets, whether it is Towriffic or anyone else, can be put on the rotating list and they will be used, but we do have to take into account that their operators are coming into contact with people’s personal property, so these operators’ pasts are relevant, Walker said.
He also said any towing company approved by Long County that is found to be using a driver/operator convicted of a felony initially would be warned of the violation.
If it happens a second time, steps will be taken to remove that company from the list.
In a related issue, commissioners approved increasing the monthly E-911 service charge from $1 to $1.50.
According to Commissioner David Richardson, who is on the E-911 committee representing Long County, the 50-cent increase already was a part of the initial E-911 plan under Phase 2 operations.
He said the county currently raises about $8,000 per month with the service charge. With the increase, the charge will raise about $12,000, covering the portion for which the county is responsible.