Sheriff discusses need for tax increase

Lake Sun staff

Camden County Sheriff Tony Helms says the August 3 election when voters will decide the fate of a sales tax for law enforcement is a critical juncture.

The tax proposal, calling for a 1/4 cent tax on goods and services in Camden County, is a chance for voters to make a decision about what kind of sheriff’s department they want in their county. Camden County voters can either say yes and give the department the resources needed to build a first-class department for a first-class county or they can say no and continue to pay third-class wages, continue to lose trained deputies to agencies that pay more and pay the price on overtime, turnover and response times, Helms said.

If passed, the 1/4 cent sales is expected to generate approximately $2.4 million annually for the sheriff’s department. Unlike the law enforcement sales tax that is split between several different departments, the proposed sales tax is earmarked specifically for the sheriff’s department.

The 2021 budget for the sheriff’s department is approximately $7.2 million.

Of the money raised by the tax, Helms estimates that between $600,000-$650,000 will be used for pay raises to get deputies to $42,000 a year. On top of this, Helms says they will hire more help for the department, including 10 deputies. Helms also wants to use a portion of the funds to increase pay for correctional officers, as well as dispatchers.

Right now, Helms said the workload with the summer season is definitely a hardship. There just aren’t enough deputies to patrol and respond to calls.

Helms is concerned this increased summer traffic may push them past their limit financially. The pairing of lower wages and increased workload is a challenge.

As the summer kicks into high gear, Helms said he can already see it’s going to be a tough season ahead as calls for service and traffic increase.

“We’ve got to wake up,” Helms said. “We are a first-class county with third-class wages. It’s time to find the money. It’s time to move forward.”

Helms said if there are any civic, church groups or other organizations interested in finding out more about the proposed tax, he is available to come to meetings and make a presentation.