Modena miffed at county's plan to buy radar guns for state
By Keich Whicker
TELEGRAPH STAFF WRITER
Tensions about the Bibb County budget for the upcoming fiscal year boiled over again this week when Sheriff Jerry Modena confronted commissioners about a plan to use about $10,000 of county funds to purchase three radar guns for the Georgia State Patrol.
"Maybe I'm being oversensitive," the sheriff said, "but if I was fully equipped I probably wouldn't say a word."
Modena said he asked commissioners to buy radar guns for the four all-terrain vehicles they agreed to acquire for the sheriff's office in fiscal 2007, and that these guns were cut from the budget in recent meetings.
"I took a real beating in that budget meeting," he said, calling the past month of budget sessions at the courthouse "one of the worst" he had participated in since he took office in 2001. "I don't understand why the commissioners would give (the state patrol) radar. I would think the taxpayers here would want their law enforcement agency funded before we start giving money out."
At least three commissioners - Charlie Bishop, Joe Allen and Elmo Richardson - say the sheriff's office did not lose any radar guns when they trimmed his $24.9 million budget request to $23.7 million.
"He hasn't lost much of anything in the process," said Richardson, who added the sheriff is set to receive five "fully-loaded" cars in the upcoming year and at least 10 other radar guns.
Richardson said the sheriff is "making a big to-do about nothing" and that the $10,000 for the guns is not a "great deal of money."
There have been several disagreements between Modena and the commissioners in recent weeks about the level of funding at the sheriff's office.
Earlier this month, Modena responded to cuts in his budget request by threatening to sue commissioners in order to secure the amount of money he said he needed to fulfill his duty as the county's chief law enforcement officer.
The sheriff openly tangled with commissioners again this week, when a plan to purchase a building located on Jeffersonville Road and convert it into substation was discussed Tuesday during a committee meeting.
In the wake of all these arguments about spending and the commission's continued mantra that it is "tightening the belt," Modena said the commission's decision to fund a state agency confuses him.
It confused at least one other county employee, too.
Barry Smallwood, the county's purchasing agent, said he cannot recall ever being asked to order equipment for a state agency.
County officials said the idea to purchase the radar guns came from Bibb County State Court Solicitor Otis Scarbary, who approached the county last year after troopers at the state patrol post in Forsyth asked him to help them secure funding for the guns "since they do so much law enforcement in the county."
Scarbary said the state patrol's traffic enforcement efforts net his office about 2,000 cases per year, which eventually translates into more than $100,000 of revenue for Bibb County.
"Anything we can do to help their efforts, I think we should," he said. "I thought that ($10,000 for the guns) was a fairly small amount of money."
Modena said it isn't about money but a matter of principle.
"I don't think it's right," he said. "What will the taxpayer think, in terms of (the commission) financing the Georgia State Patrol?"
The sheriff's office operates entirely in the county, while troopers from the Forsyth office are charged with covering several Middle Georgia counties, he said.
Bishop said other counties in the state are starting to help the state patrol, whose budget has been the victim of recent cuts in state spending.
In Houston County, for example, commissioners there formed a committee this week to explore the purchase of 10 radios for the state-patrol post in Perry that would enable state troopers to communicate with law enforcement agencies inside Houston.
"You know, charity is good but let's make sure that we're OK first," Modena said.
Telegraph staff writer Matt Barnwell contributed to this report.
To contact writer Keich Whicker, call 744-4494 or e-mail email@example.com