The Sampson County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved transferring three animal control officer positions to the Sheriff’s Office Tuesday, a proposal initially made by county staff Aug. 10. The change is effective Oct. 1.
Assistant county manager Susan Holder, who was responsible for both animal control and the county’s shelter, said the move would be a smart one, as current animal control officers have recently completed recent Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) to become certified law enforcement officers.
“This is prudent at this time because the deputies can actually perform duties in the field, where they (previously) would have had to call a sheriff’s deputy,” said Holder, who will continue to oversee the shelter. “(With the change) we won’t have to dispatch a sheriff’s deputy. They would automatically be in the loop.”
In anticipation of the three officers’ completion of BLET and the subsequent transfer, monies were budgeted in the new fiscal year for the pay grade changes.
Holder said the estimated salary hike already budgeted — totaling $14,200 — would bump the three positions up from pay grade 61 to pay grade 64, or $28,164, the minimum salary for a sheriff’s deputy.
The Department of Animal Control receives around 350 calls a month to pick up an animal or check its welfare, according to Holder. There are numerous other calls received by the shelter, she noted, but the estimated 350 encompasses calls for service.
“You would be surprised how many drug calls and dog fighting calls that animal officers are needed for,” Holder pointed out.
County attorney Rick Moorefield attested that there will likely be a transition period that comes with the change, but that it would be more proficient in the long run.
“There will be some quirks and some kinks as this gets worked out, certainly as there is in anything new,” he said. “But we feel this will be best for the county.”
With the transfer, animal control enforcement calls will now be received by 911 communications, rather than shelter staff.
Board chairman Jarvis McLamb said he was still unsure of the move, and what would come of it.
“I talked against it last year, but I’m willing to go along with it and try it for a year,” he said. “I’m not sure if this is the right thing to do or not. With the crime rate rising in Sampson County, the sheriff indicated last year that we were real swamped. I’m just wondering if this will put more burden on (them).”
Sheriff’s Capt. Eric Pope, the sole representative from the agency present at Tuesday’s meeting, said the move would be adding to staff and an increase in manpower was always welcome. He declined to speak specifically to the animal control issue, saying he did not want to lead commissioners astray on a subject on which he was not as knowledgeable.
Moorefield said the Sheriff’s Office was recently down nine positions due to worker’s compensation and other issues. “This would make up some of that slack,” he noted.
Sheriff Jimmy Thornton, who was not able to attend the commissioners meeting, told The Independent Wednesday that he believed the board’s action would be a better use of resources.
“It would be more of a benefit,” the sheriff said. “Not only can they deal with animal control issues, but if a call comes out and they’re in the area, they can respond to it too.”
Thornton said the responsibilities of the officers would be primarily to animal issues, but that they could be utilized elsewhere as needed.
“It’s not exclusive to animal issues,” the sheriff remarked. “They would be responsible for public safety issues. I think it would be a better, workable situation and a better utilization of manpower.”
Holder lauded the officers — Tim Bass, Stacie Colbourne and Matthew Smith — with attending BLET courses five days a week, on their own time, to fulfill the law enforcement obligation and be able to provide that needed manpower on both ends. The three graduated in July.
“They are to be applauded for that,” she said.
Thornton stressed that those with animal control problems call 911.