Here's how Sheriff Helms hopes to utilize the quarter-cent sales tax on the August ballot

Mitch Prentice
Lake Sun Leader
Camden County Sheriff Tony Helms.

Camden County Sheriff Tony Helms has been working to get his department money to raise salaries for years. After the County Commission unanimously supported and accepted to have a ¼ cent sales tax for the Sheriff’s Office placed on the August 3rd, 2021 ballot, it may finally happen. This sales tax is designated strictly for the Sheriff’s Office. Helms says the estimates show an income of between $2 and $2.4 million a year from the tax.

The work to get to this point has been a long road for Helms. For Helms, the biggest benefit of a pay increase would be the ability for the county to keep trained officers and department workers instead of having them move on to better-paying municipalities. Every time a new deputy is hired to replace a vacant position, Helms says the county pays thousands of dollars to retrain. This happens on a yearly basis.

On top of this concern, Helms says the county is losing out on high quality deputies available to work for the force. 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 elsewhere. . 

However, these concerns may finally be able to be put to rest if voters agree to the new tax. Helms admits that he is no fan of taxes, but in this case, it may be the only way. He hopes that residents can view the high-quality service the Sheriff’s Department provides as more than enough reason to accept the new tax. 

Inevitably, people will be concerned about questions related to the tax, such as who will be in charge of the funds and where the funds will actually be used. Helms recognized this, and says he wants residents to be aware of the department’s plans. 

First and foremost, deputies will get raises. Of the money raised by the tax, Helms estimates that between $600,000-$650,000 will be used for this purpose. This will get the deputies well above $40,000 yearly pay. On top of this, Helms says they will hire more help for the department. This will include six road deputies, one officer for Horseshoe Bend and one animal control office. These hires are estimated to cost $500,000 of the money raised, after factoring in pay, equipment needed, benefits and so on. 

Helms also wants to use a portion of the funds to increase pay for correctional officers, as well as dispatchers. He also suggested an idea to expand the size of the county jail, which he says is currently packed tight most of the time. 

The first two years following this tax would see very little surplus, Helms explained. The money will be placed into a trust fund. Helms expects the surplus to eventually rebuild after three or four years. If the tax is voted in, Helms says the first usage of the money will not be until January 1, 2022. 

“I’ve heard people worried and say ‘The Sheriff’s gonna waste money on this or that.’ Let me tell you, I’m not going to spend any of this money on anything that the county doesn’t need,” Helms said. 

Helms believes that the county as a whole will support this tax. He accepts that there will be some naysayers, but he believes there are few residents who don’t want higher quality law enforcement. 

Helms says that, for any groups, business or individual that wants a one-on-one talk with the Sheriff about the tax prior to the vote, they can reach out directly and ask for a visit. 

“Nobody likes taxes, I don’t like em,” Helms said. “If you want us to hire good deputies and keep good deputies, give me the means to do it.”