Greene County Leaders Worry about Budget following New Legislation
New legislation out of Richmond could soon hamstring some smaller Virginia localities like Greene County.
Starting July 1, localities that use law enforcement body cameras are required to hire an additional commonwealth's attorney and fund that position locally.
Currently, Greene County has two prosecutors and both positions are funded by the state.
And just last year, the commonwealth's attorney tried to scale back his position to become part time due to a lack of cases to prosecute.
Now, his office could soon be growing as the county faces a massive budget shortfall.
Body-worn cameras provide several undeniable benefits for Virginia law enforcement officers and prosecutors.
“It cuts down on the complaints, and it also helps sometimes in cases for the evidence and stuff like that, it preserves evidence, it’s just been a big plus,” Greene County Sheriff Steve Smith said.
But they also come with their costs, with one being the amount of time dedicated to watching the footage.
“We review all of the footage, and so previously you might read a two-minute police report that just says ‘I responded to the scene and I did x and y and z,’ and now you’re watching a video,” Matthew Hardin, Greene County’s commonwealth’s attorney, said.
Now, thanks to new state-wide legislation, all Virginia localities that have body cameras - including Greene County - could soon be forced to add an additional full-time assistant commonwealth's attorney to head up the video review efforts.
“If you have the video and if the prosecutor is going to have to review it, you have to have enough manpower to handle it,” Delegate Rob Bell, who represents the 58th District, said.
For Greene County, which has only 17 body cameras, that means shelling out $90,000 a year for a position the commonwealth's attorney says his office does not need.
“I’m all about cutting the budget and now the General Assembly has sort of come up with this mandate from Richmond that's going to require us to significantly supplement the budget, which is going in the wrong direction,” Hardin said.
But Delegate Rob Bell, who represents Greene County, interprets the legislation in such a way that says as long as the commonwealth's attorney and board of supervisors agree a new position is not needed, then no action is necessary.
“I am not aware of any trouble they would have so long as they get the consent of the commonwealth's attorney that he has this and has got it covered,” Bell said.
This new legislation, which is set to take effect July 1, also comes as Greene County is working to close a multimillion dollar revenue shortage in next year's budget where the sheriff's office is calling for more funding to add deputies.
“It’s because of the call volume,” Smith said. “The county is growing and you just gotta have the deputies to take the calls.”
The latest draft of the budget shows that the sheriff's office, which was originally not getting any new positions, has now been awarded one new deputy and funding to promote one part-time animal control officer to full time.
But that’s still four deputies short of the sheriff's request.