Commissioners approve $164k increase in Sheriff's budget for traffic control

Taylor Cooper, The Brunswick News, Ga.
·4 min read

Feb. 19—While law enforcement on I-95 has been stretched thin, according to county officials, it won't be for much longer once a traffic control unit fielded by the Glynn County Sheriff's Office comes online.

Sheriff's deputies' primary responsibilities include running the county jail, providing security at the courthouse, transporting county prisoners to court dates and serving legal documents.

Commissioners requested Glynn County Sheriff Neal Jump submit an estimate of the cost of fielding six new deputies to work traffic on I-95, according to a proposal from Jump to the Glynn County Commission.

"This isn't a speed trap agenda, it's an enforcement and educate agenda," Jump told the commission at a Thursday meeting.

The Georgia State Patrol Post in Brunswick doesn't have enough personnel to patrol the three counties over which it has jurisdiction, Jump said. Local law enforcement is too busy and shorthanded to work on slowing traffic on the interstate and look for other crimes, like human trafficking and drug running. Jump said both crimes are common.

The Sheriff's Office traffic unit could hit the streets as early as March 1, according to Jump's proposal. Salary and benefits would cost an estimated $163,936 for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends July 1. It would cost an estimated $462,487 the following fiscal year.

Writing tickets is "nothing new for the sheriff's office," Jump said.

"We want to support our brothers and sisters in the Glynn County PD," Jump said. "We're at a loss in Glynn County not having someone out there being visible and doing our job."

Jump said he would pay for new vehicles out of the sheriff's office seizure funds to avoid costing taxpayers, simply asking for the county to pay the deputies who would drive them.

"I see it as an opportunity to, as you say, provide more coverage on I-95 in an area we're not covering," said Commissioner David O'Quinn.

The interstate is also a common avenue for local residents, not just travelers, O'Quinn continued. With four exits in the county, local traffic from exit to exit is not unusual, but those residents aren't being served by local law enforcement when they're on the interstate.

Commissioner Allen Booker asked why the Sheriff's office should handle it instead of the GCPD.

The sheriff's office has a good relationship with the police, Jump said, preemptively dismissing the idea of a power struggle. What he was proposing was a partnership to enforce the law in an area where law enforcement is stretched thin.

GCPD currently has 112 officers, O'Quinn said, and 18 in the hiring process. Those 130 should be focusing on enforcing the law in the county's jurisdiction, he continued.

"I think this is a good alternative," O'Quinn said.

Having deputies dedicated to I-95 would ensure someone is quickly able to respond to tips from other law enforcement agencies about potential crimes on the interstate, Jump said.

Commissioners O'Quinn, Booker, Bill Brunson, Cap Fendig, Sammy Tostensen, Walter Rafolski and Chairman Wayne Neal voted to approve the traffic enforcement unit.

While they were talking with the sheriff, Commissioner Cap Fendig broached the subject of safety at the Glynn County Juvenile Court facility off Gloucester Street.

During a press tour of the facility in January 2020, juvenile court officials explained the serious lack of safety measures in the Office Park Building, which was converted from office space rather than being purpose-built. The layout and lack of security features leave court personnel vulnerable, particularly Juvenile Court Judge George Rountree.

At the time, commissioners agreed that something needed to be done quickly to address those concerns, but very little has been done to follow through in the last year.

"I would like to see us move expediently to rectify those issues," Fendig said, asking Jump to work with County Manager Alan Ours to work out a game plan.

In other business, the commission approved a $61,000 annual contract with Colorado-based LodgingRevs for administration and enforcement of the county's short-term rental ordinance. The ordinance's effective date was originally April 1, but the county's IT Department requested to delay it to July 1 to give the company time to set up its operation. Commissioners also granted that request.

During a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, St. Simons Island resident Julian Smith spoke against Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 2021, saying it was rushed and put together with the help of special interests and not with the good of citizens in mind.

Early voting on the SPLOST referendum begins on Monday.

Brunswick resident Jeff Kilgore raised questions about Jump's proposal, He said the county already pays for traffic control via the GCPD, and it made little sense on the face of it to seek help from the sheriff's office, which has its own responsibilities at the jail and Glynn County Courthouse. His comments came before Jump made his presentation to the commission.

Commissioners entered a closed session to discuss personnel matters at the end of the meeting. They took no other action other than to adjourn upon returning to open session.