ALBANY, Ga. -- Discussion of planned studies to determine if the unincorporated portion of Dougherty County would be better served with independent fire protection and a possible different law enforcement option drew the ire of one commissioner and led Monday to an extended debate of an issue that had been planned by the Dougherty County Commission at its retreat.
When County Administrator Richard Crowdis told commissioners Monday during their work session that fire and law enforcement studies by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government would help determine the feasibility of providing fire protection independent of the city of Albany's fire department or if enforcement duties carried out by the Dougherty County Police Department could be more efficiently handled by the county's sheriff's office or the Albany Police Department, District 6 Commissioner Jack Stone immediately spoke up.
"I thought we'd already put that baby to bed," Stone said. "If we're going back to this, our police officers will be put back in a position where they'll wonder if they still have a job. I don't think we need to get into this at this time."
Crowdis said he'd been directed by the commission at its retreat -- which Stone, for health reasons, was unable to attend -- to look into costs for the fire and law enforcement studies. He told the board Monday that the independent fire study would cost $24,000 and the law enforcement option study would cost $15,000.
"Y'all can spend the taxpayers' money for a study if you want to, but I already know what my opinion is," Stone said. "I'm just one person out of seven, but I'm against this."
Sinyard said the studies were suggested as possible ways to address a budget whose margins had grown razor-thin.
"Almost 90 percent of the funds spent in the unincorporated area are spent on law enforcement and fire protection," Sinyard said after the meeting. "The feeling was that anyone involved in the budget process -- and any taxpayer -- would be better served by having access to as much information as available.
"We're working with a bare-bones budget, and we have to prioritize. To do that, we need information."
District 5 Commissioner Gloria Gaines suggested having the county's Public Safety Committee look more closely at the proposed studies before a vote by the full commission is taken.
"If we can't do that, what's the purpose of the committee system?" Gaines asked.
Sinyard cited the commission's nonbinding agreement at the retreat to move forward with the studies, plus a desire to get the action on the county's May 6 business meeting agenda, as reasons to include the discussion on Monday's work session agenda.
"If this commission wants this process to go to committee, that's what we can do," Sinyard said.
District 4 Commissioner Ewell Lyle spoke against such action.
"If we're not going to look at this -- at ways of cutting our budget -- what are we going to do?" Lyle said. "I think it is our responsibility to look at these things. Taking it back to committee would only delay the inevitable."