Tuesday, June 17, 2014
County government has one responsibility that supersedes all others and that is its obligation to provide for the public’s safety. While that statement may seem obvious, for many who live and work in Berkeley County it is a sad reality that county government is drastically failing at that obligation.
Here are the facts: over the last eight years Berkeley County has grown by 30% or 42,000 people, and Berkeley County’s budget has grown by over 33% or $12,000,000 a year. Yet despite all of this growth and additional revenue, Berkeley County has not approved one additional patrol officer or one additional EMS technician in that same 8-year period.
Worse yet, we are not even adequately maintaining the existing equipment that we have. Half of the Sheriff department’s vehicle fleet has over 150,000 miles on it and one third of our ambulance fleet has over 200,000 miles on it. And we have no formal replacement plan in place. This year the EMS department asked for four replacement ambulances needing a minimum of two and Supervisor Davis approved one. The Sheriff asked for 30 replacement patrol vehicles, needing a minimum of 15 and Supervisor Davis approved zero. Sadly, the Sherriff has had to resort to requesting donated used vehicles from the Town of Moncks Corner just to get by.
Plus this population growth has obviously put a strain on the public safety system itself. Just this month our county EMS director stated at a budget workshop that the strain on the current EMS system is “extreme and it is seven days a week that at one time or another we do not have any available ambulances to send out” and “we’ve had to contact Charleston and Dorchester County for assistance.” She asked for two additional ambulance stations and Supervisor Davis approved zero.
As you can probably guess this strain has put an unprecedented amount of stress on our public safety employees. The county now mandates that many work overtime and then punishes them financially for doing so. Under a convoluted county overtime system our public safety officers pay rate actually goes down the more hours they work. To alleviate this overtime, the Sheriff asked for 8 more patrol officers and EMS has asked for 12 more EMS technicians. Supervisor Davis has approved zero.
All of this has got to stop. Our public safety employees deserve better and our citizens deserve better. And this is not an issue of funding as last year we ran a $1.8 million surplus and this coming budget year we are anticipating over $3 million in new revenue. It is not an issue of funding it is an issue of priorities.
What sort of message does it send to the public when Supervisor Davis approves the construction and equipping of a fitness center for administration employees over the health and safety of the public? What sort of message does it send to our first responders?
Last year we were able to amend Supervisor Davis’s budget to at least stop things from getting worse. We replaced 15 sheriffs’ vehicles, 3 ambulances and hired 7 detention center officers over the objection of the Supervisor. This year we will try to do similar but all we can do is stop the bleeding until we get a supervisor that prioritizes public safety.
Berkeley County needs a change at the top. Mayor Bill Peagler is leader with a proven record on public safety and he is committed to fixing these problems.
We are asking and pleading for the public’s help. Please take a few minutes out of your day on June 24th to cast a vote for Bill Peagler for Berkeley County Supervisor. Even if you did not vote in the primary you can still vote in the runoff. Together we can make a difference.
We are honored to receive your continued support.
Berkeley County Council Members Tim Callanan, Ken Gunn, Cathy Davis and Dennis Fish