MARIETTA — As a vote in June on the county’s fiscal 2022 budget draws near, the Cobb Board of Commissioners raised reservations Monday about approving yet another significant and unbudgeted public safety expense.
The county sheriff’s office asked commissioners for roughly $2 million to purchase body-worn and in-car cameras, as well as more Tasers, for its deputies. The contract with Axon would purchase about 500 Tasers and body-worn cameras, and would cost over $9 million in total for the next five years.
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell was the first to point out that commissioners will soon be inundated with spending requests from across the county’s departments. She wondered aloud if it was wise to give the green light to the expense just a month before budget talks.
“We haven’t seen everything … to know what we can afford. I want to approve this, but I’m having a little issue with committing to the 2022 budget and beyond for some of this. But I know they’ve got have them,” Birrell said.
Michael Register, the county’s former public safety director and Sheriff Craig Owens’ chief of staff, suggested the cost of not spending the money could outweigh the $9 million price tag.
“This will certainly impact our ability to defend the county … when our actions are called into question,” Register said. “You understand the tremendous amount of liability for several actions that are taking place right now within the sheriff’s office — pertaining especially to the jail.”
The present board, since taking office at the start of the year, has not hesitated to beef up public safety spending. In March, the board approved a pay raise totaling $2.1 million for the county’s sworn officers. Another $600,000 went to the purchase of a county-wide surveillance center, approved two weeks ago.
Perhaps because of that willingness thus far to honor public safety’s requests, Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said, she was finding it difficult to move forward with another multi-million dollar item.
“On a case-by-case basis, all of them seem reasonable,” Cupid said. “Within the aggregate, we are … limiting our opportunities to consider all the other matters that are important to the county, and have not been brought to our attention. And I’m just seeing these numbers just continue to balloon every meeting.”
No commissioner, however, said they would oppose the measure when it is voted on Tuesday. Finance Director Bill Volckmann added while the equipment was not eligible for SPLOST funds, there would be plenty of time to revisit how to pay for the gear.
“I think it should be part of the budget conversation, how we fund it. There could be different options on the table, for sure,” Volckmann said.