Sheriff John Darr faces city council over budget concerns - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken

Sheriff John Darr faces city council over budget concerns

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Privatizing the jail clinic should help cut costs and manage medical bills Privatizing the jail clinic should help cut costs and manage medical bills
Privatizing the jail clinic should help cut costs and manage medical bills Privatizing the jail clinic should help cut costs and manage medical bills

Sheriff John Darr went before council Tuesday morning to discuss how to stop overspending in his department. The sheriff has confidence a few new measures will do the trick.

For more than an hour council members fired questions at the sheriff, and he was intent with his answers, especially when it came to the buzzword of the day, "Gap Time."

Councilors were surprised to learn that the practice of paying salaried deputies hourly wages for time they're already scheduled to work has been going on in Columbus for many years. It's not required by law, but the sheriff says the deputies' 12-hour shifts cause them to work more than 40 hours a week in the 28 day cycle, so it's only fair to pay them for it. Others don't see it that way.

District 7 representative Mimi Woodson says, "When I work salary, if my employer tells me, 'you're going to work 10 extra hours this week,' I don't get extra pay."

District 10 at large council member Skip Henderson adds, "I don't know if we've ever really discussed it significantly enough for it to occur to me that, hey, this is probably not healthy for the budget."

Council decided to schedule a work session to understand the gap time practice further.

Sheriff Darr says it's not going away. "I think at the end of the day, they'll do the right thing and realize that when you're asking an employee to work X number of hours, whatever it is, that they've had a history of doing the right thing of paying that individual," he says.

If the city doesn't continue paying the eight hours of gap time, however, the department may lose some deputies and deter recruits. "I would just look at it from my perspective," says the sheriff. "If I was a new employee, why would I want to come work for an agency that's requiring me to work eight hours over the 160 and not paying me for it."

While council members and the mayor strongly suggest the sheriff take more precautions, he says the problems are already being fixed.

Last week the jail clinic was privatized under Correctional Healthcare Companies, which will prevent the $900,000 in unpaid medical bills that were tacked onto the sheriff's budget last fiscal year.

Sheriff Darr says, "90% of jails our size or bigger have privatized and for a reason, to get that expertise to come in from looking at how to pay the bills, better case management, inmate/patient care and stuff like that."

Jail clinic administrator Paul Morris says it's going to be a big help. "I'm in a really good situation that I now have others that I can go to, to give me advice and to give me support and to give me guidance," says Morris.

Darr is also working on cutting overtime costs by 30%.

One of the biggest changes Mayor Teresa Tomlinson looked forward to hearing was that the sheriff had hired an accountant to manage his budget. He says he's considering where the money for that position would come from and hasn't put out a job listing yet.

The city council wants Sheriff Darr to come back next quarter for an update.

Jessi Mitchell

Jessi joined the WRBL news team in October 2012 after working as a freelance production assistant for MTV Networks in Los Angeles.
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