SUMMERVILLE, Ga. — When one-term Chattooga County Sheriff John Everett left office last week, he left behind a budget in the red, a jail shipping inmates to another county and employees who had been asked to volunteer for layoffs.
New Sheriff Mark Schrader said he knew what he was facing when he took over the office Tuesday. He has extensive plans to trim the budget, improve jail conditions, provide more training for officers and improve morale.
"We want to make sure people are safe and cases are being worked, but we're also going to do our best to stay within that set budget," Schrader said.
Sole Commissioner Jason Winters said Schrader has been working hard with him to balance the budget and has tried to keep most of the staff.
"I've heard nothing but positive [words] from employees as changeover has taken place," Winters said.
After Schrader won the election in November, he and Winters sat down with about half the staff to offer them a chance to reapply for their jobs or, if they were being fired, to tell them in person.
Schrader replaced six employees. But he left several positions unfilled to reach the correct staffing numbers in the $2.6 million sheriff's budget. The patrol staff shrank from 18 to 14, which Schrader said still provides 24-hour coverage for the county's three sectors and extra officers to go where they are needed.
In September, Winters asked the former sheriff to rein in his spending after he hired extra employees and was projected to go over budget by $300,000. Instead, Everett tacked up a memo claiming Winters was forcing him to lay off 16 employees and asking staff to volunteer to be laid off.
Everett also decided to move dozens of inmates from Chattooga's jail to the Floyd County Jail. The cost of boarding out the inmates is about $35 a day each, which officials said is more than the cost of housing them in Chattooga's jail.
Schrader said the local jail doesn't have enough cells to hold all inmates while complying with a federal mandate banning more than two prisoners per cell. He said the previous administration had put extra bunk beds in each cell for more bed space.
Schrader said he is looking for ways to reduce crowding without having to send too many inmates to Floyd County.
He's also looking at a work program in which nonviolent offenders could work during the day and sleep at the jail at night. While that wouldn't solve the overcrowding problem, it would allow inmates to earn money and repay debts, he said.
The sheriff hired Sgt. Josh Powell from the Dade County Sheriff's Office to train jail employees who are not certified, which is mandated by law. The employees will receive 84 hours of training, and the program will be open to other law enforcement in the Northwest Georgia region.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...