As Walker County's population grows, Sheriff Steve Wilson says, he's worried about shrinking job rolls and mandatory furloughs in the Georgia State Patrol.
"Anytime you have cuts at the state level, it rolls down the hills to the county level," he said. "People still expect those services to be fulfilled."
Local law enforcement personnel say they feel the effects of 12 mandated furlough days per year per trooper and smaller staffs within the state patrol.
Patrol officers primarily enforce traffic laws and investigate accidents, said Georgia Department of Public Safety spokesman Gordy Wright.
There are 48 posts statewide, and in each post patrol officers cover two to five counties, he said. Georgia authorizes 953 trooper positions, and 158 of those spots are vacant, Mr. Wright said.
Local post commanders have tried to buffer counties from the worst effects of the furloughs, he said.
AREA PATROL POSTS
The Georgia State Patrol has 48 posts, including:
* Post 5, in Dalton, covers Catoosa and Whitfield counties
* Post 38, in Jasper, covers Chattooga and Floyd counties
* Post 41, in LaFayette, covers Dade and Walker counties
* Post 43, in Calhoun, covers Gordon and Murray counties
"The post commanders throughout the state schedule the furlough days so they can continue to do the most work possible," he said.
But several area sheriffs say the troopers' job is too valuable for the state to cut.
"In the past, we've let the Georgia State Patrol handle I-75," said Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers. "Now we physically work traffic enforcement on the interstate because there's not enough state troopers to work the job."
Sheriff Summers said his staff is working about 30 percent of county traffic accidents because there aren't enough troopers. In Dade County, Sheriff Patrick Cannon said he relies on state troopers to assist with traffic calls almost daily.
"If not for state patrollers, we would have to send our officers to a lot more training," Sheriff Cannon said.
State Patrol Post 41 in LaFayette, Ga., serves Dade and Walker counties. The post commander, Sgt. J.D. Stultz, referred questions to the state Department of Safety.
Gordon County Sheriff Mitch Ralston is a former state trooper. He said Post 43, which handles Gordon and Murray counties, has fewer troopers than in the past.
"They're working their tails off," Sheriff Ralston said. "(The state) has cut their hours, but they really have stepped up to the plate."
The state furloughs also affect the local courts, officials said.
In the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, which covers Dade, Catoosa, Chattooga and Walker counties, subpoenas to troopers for court cases must be scheduled around furlough days, said Chris Arnt, chief assistant district attorney.
"It gets to a point where it becomes incredibly difficult to move cases through the system," Mr. Arnt said.
Authorities have been told that bringing a state trooper to testify would mean no one could monitor the roads, he said.
While local enforcement personnel are worried, Mr. Wright said some good news is on the way. Thirty new troopers will graduate at the end of the month.
"They'll be assigned across the state based on the need," he said.