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Troup County considers funding for solicitor, TCFD equipment, jail fire protection system

Funding for an assistant solicitor, a new jail fire protection system and a new air compressor for firefighters were discussed at the Troup County Board of Commissioners work session on Thursday morning.

Troup County Solicitor Sandra Taylor came to ask commissioners to increase the pay range to hire an assistant solicitor.

The starting salary currently offered is $55,000. Originally, the plan was to recruit a young lawyer fresh out of law school. That effort has been unsuccessful for almost two years. Taylor said some young lawyers applied but never responded when offered an interview. Younger lawyers in Taylor’s office tell her the law students they speak with want to be in Atlanta.

“They can’t find anyone who will come here for that salary,” Taylor said.

Others who have expressed interest will not be eligible to practice law until October.

However, the problem with that is that Taylor has heard that jury trials — currently suspended due to COVID-19 — may resume as soon as April. That would bring an avalanche of more than 400 cases that Taylor said her office is not equipped for.

“When that dam breaks, I’m going to have to have somebody rapid-fire walk into the court room,” Taylor said.

Taylor said they have a promising candidate who was formerly with the Chattahoochee Circuit District Attorney’s Office in Columbus, Georgia. That candidate has more than 20 years of legal experience, so Taylor proposed paying him about $70,000. She believes that salary is fair based on research into salaries at the Coweta Circuit DA’s Office and other solicitor’s offices in surrounding areas.

The solicitor’s office has been understaffed, so they would still be under budget for this fiscal year if they hired him as soon as possible. However, at $70,000, her office’s budget would increase by $15,000 per year going forward.

Taylor also pointed out the Troup County district attorney had 1,841 cases in 2019 with five assistant district attorneys. Her office had 1,700 cases with 1.5 assistant solicitors.

Commissioners, who will vote on the request next Tuesday, were wary about increasing the salary. Chairman Patrick Crews said it could lead to other departments requesting budget increases to increase salaries. He wants someone in the county to do a more scientific analysis of the salary proposal.

County Manager Eric Mosley acknowledged the need to be prepared for the jury trials but said they needed to think about how other departments would be affected. He also said the candidate would need to understand he wouldn’t get a major raise in the future.

Commissioner Ellis Cadenhead asked if local lawyers would be willing to do contract work when jury trials ramp up, but Taylor said the only one who she found who was interested requested county benefits, which is not possible.

Taylor is also requesting commissioners to lift the hiring freeze to fill a vacated, budgeted position of legal assistant.

In other business, Mike McCollum of Hog Heaven came to tell commissioners that the county had raised its beer license fee too much — the annual fee went from $200 to $500 in the past year. Restaurants are struggling due to the pandemic and, “In other parts of our country, restaurants have decided collectively to just say ‘Sorry,’” and refuse to pay the license, McCollum said.

County Planning and Zoning Technician Ruth West said the county had raised the beer fee for the first time since 1990 after Mosley asked staff to do research on surrounding counties to determine an appropriate fee. She said $500 was still relatively low compared to other counties.

“And the timing couldn’t have been worse,” McCollum said.

Commissioners expressed sympathy but did not indicate that the fee would be changed. Commissioner Lewis Davis said it would open the door to other types of businesses requesting similar fee changes.

Chief Probation Officer Nicole Kostial asked for approval to apply for a Delinquency Prevention state grant for the Juvenile Court. If received, the grant would help fund the court through 2025. The maximum award for the first year is $20,000 and $30,000 for each year after that. There would be no financial obligation for the county.

Public Services Director Dexter Wells is seeking approval to begin replacing the fire safety system at the Troup County Jail. The current system has a lifespan of 20-30 years and is 26 years old. Wells has received a proposal from Siemens to replace the system.

The county currently pays about $23,500 per year for maintenance on the system. Upgrading the system would save about $8,900 yearly and about $178,220 over 20 years, Wells said.

The cost of the replacement system, including installation is about $223,850 The replacement was already planned and budgeted for in SPLOST 5. The new system’s lifespan is estimated at 20 years.

Some components of the jail’s system can be repurposed and used in other county buildings, Wells said.

“This is not a system that is glitzy and pretty, but it’s an important system for the safety of the people at the jail,” Wells said.

Troup County Fire Department representatives gave a presentation to request a new, MAKO brand Modular Breathing Air System. The system is used to fill oxygen tanks for firefighters.

They are requesting to replace the current system, which was purchased in 1996. The cost would be $56,337, with a five-year extended warranty.