Carter deletes robot from budget, adds funds for design study for new sheriff's office
By Alex Bridges
WOODSTOCK -- A robot stood between Shenandoah County leaders and the sheriff.
The Board of Supervisors has approved Sheriff Timothy Carter's request for federal funds awarded for the agency's law enforcement efforts. Carter can spend $587,324 in federal asset forfeiture money awarded to his office for its involvement in law enforcement operations.
Instead of spending $124,936 on a tactical robot as originally intended, Carter revised his request to reflect that he intends to use the money to cover the cost of an architectural and engineering design study for a new sheriff's office. The agency currently operates in the basement of the circuit court building.
The board voted 6-0 without debate to approve the appropriation of the funds to the sheriff's office in the fiscal 2015 budget. The board already had approved the fiscal budget so, in separate action Tuesday, voted to amend the spending plan to reflect the appropriation of the asset forfeiture funds to the sheriff's office.
Board Chairman David Ferguson told the audience about his conversations with the sheriff regarding the request. Ferguson said he "really wasn't comfortable with the robot" and worried about the ongoing costs related to its maintenance. Ferguson contrasted this to making video recordings of its meetings that the board had approved at the same meeting. Ferguson noted that a robot, as a more sophisticated machine, likely would have higher maintenance needs at a greater costs.
Ferguson also warned against extravagant spending.
"Just because you can, should you purchase it?" Ferguson said.
Carter, as Ferguson requested, also provided an itemized list showing how he plans to spend the money.
Carter plans to spend $294,432 on six patrol vehicles that would come equipped with cameras and computers. The sheriff also plans to spend some of the asset money on body cameras for all patrol deputies; tactical equipment; and professional services and development. The sheriff wants to spend some of the asset forfeiture money on equipment used to investigate methamphetamine labs and for a K-9 drug detection dog and related equipment.
The sheriff also plans to use $142,827 to cover the salaries of four new school resource officers as part of an initiative to increase the law enforcement presence in the system. Under a deal reached with the Board of Supervisors last year, the sheriff plans to cover a portion of the cost for the officers' salaries with the county paying the remainder. The percent of the shares will change over time, with the county eventually covering 80 percent.
The U.S. Department of Justice awards funds that come from assets seized in the course of investigations to participating law enforcement agencies. The department does not allow local agencies to use the money to cover employee salaries or to create new positions. County officials provided a Powerpoint presentation to the board from the federal department that outlines the possible uses and restrictions governing the funds.
For instance, according to the federal department's information, the sheriff cannot use the asset money on employee pay except in the case of first-year salaries for new or temporary positions. The sheriff can use the money to fund any officer assigned to a specific, non-traditional function such as DARE or school resource officer. Carter's office received a letter from the federal agency giving him the green light to spend asset forfeiture money on school resource officers.
Several other law enforcement agencies in the region have requested, and received approval from elected leaders for asset forfeiture money in recent weeks. Those agencies have indicated that they intend to spend their share on equipment and other one-time needs. Their requests were met with little fanfare or debate by the elected bodies.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org