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Sheriff defends car repair efforts

by Larry S. Chowning

Sheriff Guy Abbott and Middlesex County Board of Supervisors chairman Robert Crump got into a heated debate Tuesday over a recent board policy barring Abbott and volunteers from working on police vehicles.

Crump contends he is trying to keep Abbott from overspending his budget and wants him to concentrate on doing his job as sheriff—not working on department police cars. He noted the sheriff’s office has consistently overspent its budget.

Abbott said he is saving taxpayer money by fixing police cars himself and with the help of volunteers.

He told supervisors the reason his department is over budget is because they are overworked. “This last month we had over 800 arrests—the highest number in the regional jail,” said Abbott. “Can’t you figure it out! It’s just common sense that the reason for our high costs is because we are making more arrests.

“What do you want me to do?” Abbott asked. “I can park the cars and tell the public you don’t want us to respond to help. I’ve got to respond to calls—that’s my job.”

Crump said he doesn’t understand why Abbott has gone over his budget on gasoline when it was $4 a gallon a few years ago and now it’s down to $2.25 a gallon. “Instead, you are spending more money on fuel,” said Crump. “You must be putting more miles on the cars.”

Abbott said his deputies are putting anywhere from 250 to 300 miles on a car each day. “Yes, we are putting more miles on cars because there are more calls now,” he said.

“What are you going to do when the money runs out?” asked Crump.

“I guess I’ll tell the public I won’t respond to calls any more,” said Abbott.

Abbott told supervisors they need to review the number of calls his deputies answer each week. “Everything is documented. None of you have gone over there to see what we do,” he said.

Abbott said he has stopped all part-time deputies and is trying to find ways to cut costs. One way was to have Deputy Wayne Kidd work on county police vehicles as a volunteer with no pay.

Kidd addressed the supervisors. He said he repairs lights, sirens and other equipment on the police cars. He noted he is certified in the areas in which he works. “I do this as a volunteer,” he said. “I am certified as a law enforcement technician.  The work is being done by someone with knowledge and certification—not a ‘shade tree mechanic’ as was implied.”

Kidd said a lot of the county police vehicles are old and mechanic shops have trouble finding parts for them. Kidd said he and others take parts off old vehicles and use them to repair working vehicles, which is a cost savings to the county.

“Just because I’m a volunteer and work for nothing, doesn’t mean I’m qualified or unqualified. To say that volunteers are not qualified is a slap in the face to all the volunteer fire department and rescue squad personnel in the county. Being paid doesn’t necessarily mean a better job is being done.

“I do what I do because I like to do it,” continued Kidd. “I don’t have to show a profit, so I can afford to take time to do the job right. That’s not always the case at an automobile shop. They have to show a profit and move on to the next job. I make sure the job is right.”

Crump told Kidd he appreciated his volunteer efforts.

Crump then asked to see information on line item figures on repairs to police vehicles over the past few years. He noted that every year the sheriff has gone over budget.

Abbott indicated he has saved a great deal of money by fixing vehicles under the amount of insurance payments. When the insurance checks come, the extra money goes into his budget, he noted.
Crump said he feels the money should go into the county treasury and not into the sheriff’s budget.

“It’s still saving taxpayer money. What part of that don’t you understand?” Abbott asked Crump.

“The part that makes the balance sheet right,” Crump responded.

“All right, I’ll start going by your balance sheet and start parking cars,” responded Abbott. “I have an auxiliary who bought and paid for seven cars. If these volunteers stop helping, it’s really going to cost the taxpayers.”

“It’s costing taxpayers now,” said Crump.  “Who do you think pays for the gas and insurance to run those cars? The last time I looked there weren’t free lunches out there. It’s going to cost somebody something.”

“Yes, the county pays for the gas and insurance, but the county taxpayers didn’t have to pay for the cars,” said Abbott. “You want me to save money, and yet it sounds like you want me to throw money away.”

Crump responded, “I’m sorry, but I just don’t think you working on cars at your house is cost effective.”

Abbott said he works on police cars at his home to save taxpayer money and “you (Crump) have no right to tell me what to do on my personal time. I just don’t think you understand my job. All we are trying to do is save the county money.”

posted 10.08.2009

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