Bibb sheriff says staff adjustments still possible

lfabian@macon.comFebruary 28, 2014 

Deputies are sporting new uniforms, patrol cars are waiting to be re-marked and a powerful emergency radio upgrade is near completion.

This stage of merging the police and sheriff’s departments is a lot like moving into a new house, said Bibb County Sheriff David Davis.

All the furniture is in the building, the essentials are in use, but some shifting around and decorating are still necessary in Davis’ analogy.

Staff adjustments with possible civilian layoffs could still be needed later this year.

When Macon police joined Bibb deputies Jan. 1, both departments had vacancies totaling about 60 officers at that time.

“Fortunately right now, we’ve been able to manage with the staff we have, but we’ve had to dip into overtime,” Davis said. “I can not be prouder of the work the deputies are doing on the line.”

In addition to two winter storms, the department has been busy with two homicides, shootings and multiple fatal accidents.

While Davis wants to hire more deputies, he still can not rule out a civilian staff reduction later this year.

The sheriff’s office already had 62 non-sworn employees and received 25 more from the Macon Police Department for a total of 87 civilian workers.

The budget process over the coming months will help him determine the precise needs in each division.

Plus, staffing requirements will be much clearer when the new law enforcement annex opens in the old Sears building on Third Street near Riverside Drive.

Macon-Bibb County commissioners are in the process of selecting a contractor for the renovation that is expected to be complete this fall.

Consolidating criminal investigations, central records storage and other units could eliminate the need for some civilian workers.

“Right now we’re scattered far afield and each one of those places has its own support staff,” Davis said. “We thought we might have too much civilian staff, but you never know until you get everybody in place.”

Some Macon police civilian workers left before the merger and a couple of clerical positions remain open, he said.

At the end of last year, 16 Bibb deputies retired.

All of Macon’s police officers made the shift, but Davis saw an exodus of several veterans at the command level of the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office.

“I lost five captains, three majors and several lieutenants and some other line officers,” Davis said.

While the sheriff has promoted some deputies to fill the void, he is leaving some vacancies open to allow the former Macon officers go before the civil service board.

All deputies must be interviewed by a review panel of former officers and citizens before being eligible for promotions.

“I want to try to be as fair and as encompassing as I can be of former police,” Davis said.

Going forward, the sheriff will continually re-evaluate to determine if lower-ranking officers would be better suited for certain tasks.

“How many of those ranked positions do we really need? Instead of a lieutenant, it could be a deputy in the same position,” he said.

Assessing staff needs will be easier than adjusting the salary structure.

“There are great disparities in pay,” Davis said.

In some cases, Bibb deputies make thousands of dollars more than their counterparts from the Macon Police Department, he said.

The county is still determining revenue projections for the next fiscal year and will begin reviewing budget requests in a couple of weeks, said Dale Walker, county manager.

He will be crunching numbers once revenue is set.

“Can we afford that huge increase in some people’s pay over one year, two years or three years?” Walker asked.

Under the consolidation agreement, the 2015 budget can not exceed the sum of the previous budgets for Macon and Bibb County.

Going forward, the next four budgets must reduce expenditures by at least 5 percent.

Further complicating matters, Macon-Bibb County firefighter salary ranges were set based on the former police pay structure.

“We have to try to maintain some parity, but I’m not convinced it has to be exact, but very close,” Walker said. “There’s a lot of chess pieces moving around right now.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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