Camden County Sheriff Helms bracing for difficult year as summer events rebound

Mitch Prentice
Lake Sun Leader
Camden County Sheriff's Office vehicle in front of the courthouse.

While 2020 will forever be known as a difficult year, the lake actually saw a boom in revenue. With all three major counties recording sales tax increases, and a number of national stories displaying the high foot traffic in the heat of summer, the lake was one of the few places in the world that had a positive financial outcome from the pandemic

Now, all eyes around the area are on the summer of 2021 and the potential for another great year. Many lake events have announced their return, and some events have even announced coming back bigger than before. It would seem that everything about 2021 is poised to be a boom in tourism for the area. However, in the eyes of Camden County Sheriff Tony Helms, this could be one of their most difficult years so far. 

Helms says that in the early months of 2021, they have almost doubled their call volume compared to the previous year. Currently, the sheriff’s office is taking around 900 calls a week. This has led to concern from the Sheriff that this summer may prove to be more than they can handle at their current budget.

Helms says that citizens should be assured that his deputies will work as hard as is required to face the demand of an increasingly busy summer, but he’s worried about what the workload may do to the workforce he has available.

In January, Helms spoke with the Lake Sun about his work with the county commissioners to increase deputy wages. With nearby municipalities paying upwards of $8,000 more than the current Camden County wage, he says they are in constant threat of having respected officers move somewhere else. Currently, the county’s budget only has so much room for overtime pay, and Helms is concerned this increased summer traffic may push them past their limit financially.

On top of financial concerns, Helms says that the workload may push the deputies away to other jobs. The pairing of lower than comparative pay and increased workload to face the dozens of summer events at the lake is sure to be a challenge. 

“We’ve got to wake up,” Helms said. “We are a first-class county with third-class wages.”

Helms says the county may have to prioritize certain events throughout the year to effectively spread its resources. While all calls for service will be met, he says that residents with lower priority issues may see an increase in response time throughout the busier months of the year.

The obvious solution to these challenges is to find more money in the county budget to increase deputy wages and to allow for extra deputy hires. However, Helms is aware that the other Camden County departments are in need of wages too, including the road and bridge department and the county health department. Helms says he is going to continue to work hard with the county commissioners to find a solution, but summer is coming fast and after Memorial Day, the lake will be running at full speed. Only time will tell what kind of summer the area is soon to have.

“It’s time to find the money. It’s time to move forward,“ Helms said.