Sheriff Alex Hodge pleaded his case for supervisors to lift their hiring freeze on his department.
“We continue to get dangerously low on our personnel,” he said at the end of last Monday’s board meeting in Ellisville. “We continue to see assaults and violence, and I’m deeply concerned about the lack of presence of deputies. We see what’s going on around the country.”
Hodge was referring to a shooting that left 26 dead in a Baptist church in a small Texas town on Sunday and he mentioned a shootout involving a Meridian police officer last weekend. Hodge’s deputies and investigators also worked a murder just outside the city of Laurel on Friday night.
“This is what we’re dealing with,” he said.
The jail stays at capacity, Hodge said, and it’s down to four corrections officers and there are only five deputies per shift. There were a total of 4,300 inmates last year, and 10 months into this year, there have already been more than 4,600, he said.
“I consider it a matter of public safety and the liability that comes with that,” he said.
Supervisors did not respond, but Chief Administrative Officer Danielle Ashley said that there have been talks about expansion or building a new jail and a committee has been formed and did a walk-through at the Jones County Adult Detention Center.
“We’ve had two productive jail meetings,” she said.
The board imposed a hiring freeze on Hodge after he submitted his budget for Fiscal Year 2018. The board also cut some positions and “step” raises, he said.
In another matter, Chief Financial Officer Charles Miller reported that the county got a $74,000 rebate back from United Healthcare. He suggested that half of the money be used to pay the county’s 400 employees’ $30 monthly premiums for the next three months.
“We could put a freeze on withholding that money from their checks,” he said.
Board President Jerome Wyatt agreed, but suggested that the withholdings be held off for six months.
“Let’s give it all back to them,” he said, commending Miller for the “excellent” idea. “That will be good to show them that we’re trying to help them.”
Miller also reported that $4.5 million in bond money is now in the bank and ready to be used for bridge and road repairs. Diane Smith of Clark Engineers said it would be about two weeks before the bidding processes are done and work can begin.
Supervisor Barry Saul said that oil and gas trucks have continued “tearing up” roads in Beat 3, including Triangle Drive and Bush Road. In August, he made similar complaints about damage on Red Holifield and Morning Dew roads and Brown Drive. Supervisor Danny Roy Spradley said that three roads in Beat 2 have also been damaged by the big trucks — Ruffin Road, McVey and Davis-Hyatt roads.
Board attorney Wayne Thompson said he would write a letter to the companies requesting the repairs.
“We just want them to fix what they tore up,” Saul said.
In other business, the board unanimously approved the following, with Supervisor Johnny Burnett out with an excused absence:
• The sale of 17 parking places from South Central Medical Center to the Ear, Nose & Throat clinic on 12th Avenue for “fair market value.” That will put the property back on county tax roles, Saul said;
• Deborah Jones of the county court office as deputy receiving clerk;
• Ashley’s travel to Canton for a conference;
• A permit request from AT&T on Moselle-Seminary Road.
Pastor Allen King of West Laurel United Methodist Church opened the meeting with a devotion. He focused on the mass shooting in Texas that occurred the morning before. “At times like this, we must look to God,” he said.