By Gary Nelson
Senior staff writer
A new Community Service Officer position was created and approved on a trial basis by the county's budget committee last week.
The purpose of the position is to oversee the operations and perform the necessary paperwork for community service workers who are assigned to perform community service for the county in lieu of paying fees and fines they owe to the county court system.
"It's a way for people who have not paid their fines to work off the fines and fees so they are reduced. Using these workers has stopped us from having to hire a lot of part-time people. It's saving the county money in the long run, but I've got to have someone to do the paperwork so I'm recommending we have a full-time community service officer," Mike Harvel, 7th District commissioner and solid waste assistant director, said. "It's a win-win situation for the county."
Cumberland County General Sessions Judge Larry Warner said, "It's a way to verify the work's being done. It's for those who have gone two or three years and haven't paid any of their fines. We're not losing any money because the county is getting something where they weren't getting anything before."
Larry Sherrill, Cumberland County Circuit Court clerk, also attended the meeting and said the program would be a benefit to the county because at least they would be getting some work done for the county instead of not getting anything.
Warner said that if a person applies and signs up for the program and commits to performing the community service, but fails to do so, they could go to jail because they would be violating a court order.
Harvel said currently the county is using four to five people per day around the county's recycling center to perform jobs there.
"If we start this position, we will be able to go way up on our community service workers," Harvel said.
Sherrill said the county was only doing roughly 10 percent of what it could.
Sonya Rimmer, 8th District commissioner, asked, "So who would this person answer to?"
"I don't care. Maybe the county mayor," Harvel said.
"It would be better for them to answer to the judge," Johnny Presley, 3rd District commissioner, said.
"I don't care, that would be fine," Warner said.
"Well, where would the records be maintained and all the information for the judge? Who would take care of that?" Jan McNeil, 5th District commissioner, asked.
"Well, that's what this person would do. It's for the accountability for all the community service workers," Harvel said.
"To have it run through Mr. Sherrill's office would make sense. That's where you have all the records," Harry Sabine, 1st District commissioner and budget committee chairperson, said.
"I think we've got a really good resource right here with this program," Dave Hassler, 3rd District commissioner, said.
"Is somebody doing it now? Who's currently doing it?" Nancy Hyder, 2nd District commissioner, asked.
Harvel said he has a current employee who is doing the record keeping now, but this employee is partially funded by the litter grant and he can not use them any more than currently.
"If we can do this, I will move this person full-time into this position and get another one part-time to fill in what she's doing now," Harvel said.
Harvel provided an information sheet with an estimated budget and actual numbers on how much the program has saved the county by doing it part-time.
Harvel said that from November of 2012 to Sept. 1, 2013 there have been roughly 4-5 people per day working the program. That totals 210 people who have worked 7,186 hours.
"The total fines they have worked off is $71,860," Harvel said.
Harvel said a best estimate is that, by using a community service officer, "We will double our number to 540 people, 19,420 hours and $194,200 in fines will be worked off."
Rimmer asked where the proposed salary figures were coming from.
Harvel explained the total for the officer would cost the county $39,999 including salary, benefits and computer. The salary would be $26,500, which is based on the employee's years of service and experience, and a correction officer's salary, which places them at a grade four, step 10 on the county-wide pay scale.
"I've already got the person for the job who already knows how to do it and what they're doing," Harvel said.
Harvel said he thought the county could save a lot of money by using the community service workers in other departments, as well.
"I think where we will really realize the savings is once we get the single stream recycling program open.
Hyder said she would recommend approving the position under Warner's budget on a one-year trial basis and for the program to be re-evaluated in April of 2014 during next year's budget deliberations.
Hassler supported Hyder's motion and it was unanimously approved.
The county commission will consider the matter in the near future.