Commission hears Sheriff, OCAP building concerns

Published 10:00 am Friday, April 5, 2024

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The Lowndes County Commission Chambers held a standing-room-only meeting Monday as community members and stakeholders gathered to hear and weigh-in on a discussion of solving a longstanding problem facing the commissioners, local law enforcement and an agency working to assist area residents.

Lowndes County Sheriff Chris West and his command staff attended the commission’s March 25 meeting where West addressed commissioners with concerns related to the purchase of new patrol trucks and relocating the Sheriff’s department investigator office space. 

West spoke directly with commission chairman Charlie King, Jr. regarding commissioner’s concerns about a previously approved allocation for new vehicles. Initially, he requested funding to purchase three Ford trucks, but later learned four Dodge trucks could be purchased more economically, at an amount just over what the commission had initially approved.

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“With the vehicles, you all did approve the purchase,” West said. “The first time I came to you, the cost was about $36,000. But when I went back and checked with Ford, and Commissioner Simmons can testify to it, we found out Ford trucks were upwards of $40,000 each.”

West said he later learned the office could purchase Dodge trucks at around $37,000 per vehicle.

According to King, the commission needed clarification and an update on the particulars of the purchase.

“I committed to you that I will support you getting cars,” King said, describing a discussion between himself and West regarding the purchase of new patrol cars. King said the commission’s approval of roughly $36,000 per vehicle was intended for the purchase of cars.

“We talked about cars,” King said. “If you want trucks instead of cars, that’s your call. I just want you to be transparent in what you say you’re doing.”  

The discussion ended without resolution. West noted that the department has incurred ongoing maintenance costs for current patrol vehicles, saying trucks and not cars are needed to respond to calls on the county’s rough roads.

West also raised concerns over the commission’s recent directive to relocate the department’s investigator’s office.

The current office, shared with the Hayneville branch of the Organized Community Action Program, Inc. (OCAP), has been deemed irreparable due to roof leaks and mold. In a March 19 email, county administrator Jacquelyn Thomas, conveyed a commission directive, notifying West the office must relocate to the Old Town Hall building located just behind the Lowndes County Courthouse.

Brenson Crenshaw, OCAP board chairman, joined West to raise concerns over relocating the program’s office, stating he received notice to relocate and has been attempting to do so, but has been unable to move forward.

Both West and Crenshaw voiced concerns over sharing space in the Old Town Hall. The Sheriff’s department and OCAP currently have space in the same building, divided by a thick wall and utilizing separate entrances. The suggested space is smaller than the current building and has thinner walls, which will not afford privacy for investigators, security for storing evidence or adequate space for the investigator’s needs, each explained.

“Yes, we are [currently] sharing a building, but there is a thicker wall between the Sheriff’s investigators and OCAP,” Crenshaw said. “There’s really not enough room.

“What am I to do? With law enforcement and investigators being there, when our clients come in, how do we know what [investigators] have going on? You gave us 30 days to move and I’m just trying to find out what we need to do.”

The commissioners confirmed that necessary improvements to meet needs of both agencies would be completed before the move, but the meeting ending without a solid plan to move forward. King requested both West and Crenshaw submit information on what each agency will need to make the space work.

In other business, the commission:

  • Heard the engineers report of roadway trimming and repairs;
  • Considered implementation of a building code ordinance;
  • Approved a $500 appropriation to The Calhoun School; and
  • Appropriated $5,000 to the STEP program.

The next commission meeting will take place April 8 at 10 a.m.