Sheriff Alex Hodge talks to a group of mostly supporters gathered at the Jones County courthouse for budget hearings on Tuesday morning. (Photo by Mark Thornton)

Sheriff Alex Hodge talks to a group of mostly supporters gathered at the Jones County courthouse for budget hearings last year. 

Sheriff again requests $8.6 million; increase would require tax hike, CFO says

Sheriff Alex Hodge declined to fill out a questionnaire in the Leader-Call’s free Election Guide that’s in today’s edition. But the three-term sheriff did answer the most important item on Friday when he turned in his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2020 to the Board of Supervisors.

Hodge is asking for a little more than $8.6 million — a 55 percent increase from the $5.5 million budget he received from the board last year, according to paperwork obtained by the Leader-Call on Friday.

All county department heads were required to turn in their budgets to Chief Financial Officer Charles Miller by 5 p.m. on Friday. Hodge’s proposed total is $8,609,613.

It would not be possible to allocate that much for the sheriff’s department without a tax increase, Miller said last year, after Hodge initiated a battle with the board over his budget.

It would take a tax hike of 10 mills to give the sheriff what he asked for, Miller said, and the law only allows for supervisors to raise taxes by 3.5 mills without residents voting for a referendum. A mill represents about $470,000.

“We couldn’t come close to giving him what’s being requested without raising taxes,” Miller said at the time.

Board President Jerome Wyatt said the extra money can’t be taken from the general fund “unless he wants to close the library, the museum, parks and recreation ...”

Supervisor Barry Saul pointed out that he and other supervisors don’t get the amounts they need in their budgets every year either.

“The amount it would take to do the things we need every day, it would shock you,” he said. “But if we got that, people couldn’t afford to live here, and this board isn’t going to do that.”

Hodge countered that the board does have the money, but “it’s a matter of priorities.” He didn’t, however, talk specifically about what could be cut from supervisors’ budgets.

The bulk of his proposed budget — which includes the sheriff’s department, the adult jail and the juvenile jail — would go to salaries ($3,169,500) in the sheriff’s department. His $100,000 salary is set by state statute. Another $240,000 would go for fuel and tires. Several of his deputies and investigators live in neighboring counties — some as far as 60 miles away — and travel back and forth daily in county vehicles.

Board budget hearings are set for Aug. 12-15 and the public hearing will be Sept. 3.

Primary elections are set for Aug. 6. Republican challengers Macon Davis and Paul Sumrall, and Independent Joe Berlin have said that they could run the department on the allotted $5.5 million.

Former sheriff Larry Dykes said that the budget in the last year of his second term, before Hodge took office in 2008, was $2.8 million.

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