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How the Augusta County budget process works when it comes to funding body cameras for the sheriff’s office

Augusta County Government Center in Verona
Augusta County Government Center in Verona
Published: Jun. 3, 2021 at 7:08 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - Funding has been the major hurdle when it comes to getting the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office equipped with a body camera system.

Sheriff Donald Smith has said he’s not opposed to the Sheriff’s Office getting body cameras, and it’s something he has requested in the department’s budget for several years now, but it hasn’t been approved by the county.

That raised some questions from supervisor Pam Carter, who says she couldn’t remember being asked to fund such a system at a Board of Supervisors meeting last month.

“I’m going to continue to ask for clarification when something isn’t transparent or when I have questions about it because I feel like the citizens deserve answers, and it’s my duty as an elected official to ask questions and to seek clarification,” Carter said. “That doesn’t mean that I’m pointing the finger at anyone... I wasn’t doubting that the sheriff had included it, I just knew that for some reason I couldn’t remember that I had voted on it.”

We took a took a look at the complex budgeting process to better understand how it works.

“People will notoriously ask for items that we just can’t fund in the budget,” Carter said.

And that’s why Augusta County administration and staff will meet with department heads first to make cuts to their request, in order to present a more balanced budget to the Board of Supervisors.

“Sheriff Smith had put the cams request in his budget; however, items were cut and by the time it got to the board, it was no longer there,” Carter explained.

A department’s budget request can go through several revisions between department heads and county administrators before actually getting to the board for their approval.

“And then that comes to us as a balanced budget, and we go over it and make decisions about what we think is important, what the priorities are, etc,” Carter said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a plethora of gold that we can just buy everything, so we have to rely on his expertise and his recommendation.”

Sheriff Smith has made it clear what the priorities are for the sheriff’s office right now.

“If my deputies are calling for help for a citizen or calling for help for a deputy, or anybody else, the number one problem that I have right now is my radio system,” Sheriff Smith explained.

The sheriff also says his police vehicles are worn out, and he would like to increase wages for deputies and dispatch.

He says he’s included body cams in his budget requests every year since 2018, but the money just is not there to fund the program.

“Compare our tax rate to these other folks and you’ll see why we don’t have the equipment. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a low tax rate and have all the bells and whistles,” Sheriff Smith said.

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