Cities ask Barrow to stop patrols

WINDER - With Gwinnett County embroiled in dispute with its cities over service delivery, the Barrow County Commission discussed that same topic at its meeting Tuesday night.

As Barrow contemplates its millage rate for fiscal year 2010 beginning in October, the month its service delivery agreement with cities expires, residents of Winder, Braselton, Auburn and Statham are seeking reductions in their rates. The cities assert that, unlike unincorporated areas and Carl and Bethlehem, they have their own police departments, and therefore, require less from the Sheriff's Department.

"The last thing we want is any conflict between our cities and our county," Commission Chairman Danny Yearwood said. "If we change our millage rate, we have to have a procedure to go by."

The county decided to have ongoing discussions on the issue before setting its millage rate in the next month or so. But, Yearwood said, "We're still $2.2 million short in our budget, so we have a lot to discuss besides that."

As in Gwinnett, establishing different millage rates for city and county residents is complex. On one hand, city mayors contended in a letter to the commission that existence of their own police departments means less overlapping patrol and enforcement needs from the sheriff. On the other hand, Sheriff Jud Smith and Yearwood pointed out that cities get proceeds of traffic citations that deputies write within city limits, and the sheriff's process service is approximately half on city residents.

"The way I look at it," said Commissioner Steve Worley, "it's almost a wash."

Mayors proposed different resolutions in their letter, including the sheriff establishing its own millage rate for services, creating different tax districts or rebating county tax to city residents.

Smith praised coordination of patrol, incident response and investigation between the county and cities, but he cautioned against getting into "(service) pricing contests with cities." Furthermore, he didn't want his officers forced to turn a blind eye to infractions within cities.

The commission also:

· Heard a proposal to seek federal grant money for creation of a Barrow-based drug court within the Piedmont Judicial Circuit. The commission allowed the proposal only if the court, which will focus on substance abuse and mental health intervention, will cost the county nothing for at least its first three years.

· Decided to take bids for its health care contract for inmates in its 300-bed jail. Unbeknownst to the current insurer and the county, the previous contract had run out in June and had been based on a capacity of only 150 inmates.