By Ayesha K. Mustafaa
Hinds County District 1 Supervisor Robert Graham, the board president, said he was “appalled” by the outcome of last week’s 3-2 vote that cut $2.5 million from the Hinds County Sheriff’s budget.
After that vote, Graham scheduled a special meeting for Monday, Sept. 10, in an effort to reverse the board’s decision.
With the show of strong support by county workers and religious leaders standing shoulder to shoulder to rescind the budget cuts, the emphasis remained on the impact such deep cuts would have on public safety.
Peggy Hobson-Calhoun, who voted against the budget cuts in last weeks meeting said, “The $2.5 million cut from the Sheriff’s budget would take it back to 2007 levels.” She explained how any savings expected from the cuts would be absorbed before seeing them.
“I don’t think this board has considered the direct impact losing 135 employees would have on the county’s general fund,” she said. “We would have to pay 240 hours of leave time plus comp time and unemployment benefits; pay outs alone would eat up the possible savings that would have been added to the reserve fund.”
She also pointed to the possible shortage in manpower in the public works department where inmates assist with cutting grass and picking up litter and in the maintenance department with machinery repairs.
She argued against the $100 raise per employee saying that “$100 is not enough to realize any real difference in pay. The employees would not take home an extra $100 after deductions and it could push them into a higher tax bracket.”
Calhoun urged her fellow supervisors to rescind their position. “We are robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she said. “Please rescind your votes for the good of everyone in Hinds County.”
District 4 Supervisor Phil Fisher warned that the budget is strained beyond capabilities and some funds are being depleted. “We can’t raise taxes,” he said.
“The Sheriff gets money quarterly, and they hire and fire as they see best. But they need to work as the military and know 5 to 10 years down the road what you will make. But in the county, it is randomly done,” said Fisher.
District 5 Supervisor Kenneth Stokes, who originally proposed the cuts, said the board was now being faced with “scare tactics.” He said employees deserve pay raises and a $100 raise is better than no raise at all.
Graham said, “We all have the county at heart; I’d rather cut off my left hand – as I am left handed – before I cut off our law enforcement.
“The people you see here today in uniform may or may not go home again. We owe them more than a vote, we owe them gratitude,” said Graham.
Pastor M.V. May also expressed concerns over safety of the citizens of Hinds County. “If you lay off 90 officers, it will have a real impact,” he said.
“Don’t cut the goose that is laying the golden egg,“ he added referring to how the Sheriff Department brings in funds and makes us safe. “We need to keep doing what we are doing,” said May.
While David Archie, community activist, warned that politics was being played out at its best at the special meeting, others supported rescinding the budget cuts and put the emphasis back on community safety.
Rev. Terri Moore issued a warning that if crime rises because of these proposed cuts, the city of Jackson stands to lose businesses. “We need officers in the field,” she appealed.
“Most crimes are in the city of Jackson, while Hinds County is considered safe. But businesses will be affected and will move if safety becomes an issue for them.”
She added that if cuts are made, they should be done across the board and not just in one department.
Lee Bernard, vice president of Georgetown Community Hill Association, said, “We oppose the cuts to public safety. Georgetown has elderly people who will be preyed upon. If there is no crime in the county, there is crime in the city and the sheriff works here as well.”
Bernard directed his comments to District 2 Supervisor Doug Anderson because he represents part of Georgetown, asking him to rescind his previous vote.
Anderson was present but due to an illness prepared a written statement rescinding his earlier vote for the cuts and offering a motion for the board to take action.
Graham and Calhoun joined Anderson and voted “no” for the cuts, bringing the three votes needed to reverse the previous decision.
Sheriff Tyrone Lewis issued a public statement after the special meeting thanking all those who wrote letters and worked the telephones to get the $2.5 million budget cuts reversed. “On behalf of the hard working men and women in our department, it is comforting to know that you have our backs,” Lewis said in the statement. “As the largest county in the state of Mississippi and home to the capital city, we should be leading in innovative and creative ways of fighting crime and in prevention policing…. Let us continue to work together to improve the quality of life in this county.”