Should Sheriff's & Marshal's Office be combined?

By Lindsey Connell - bio | email

COLUMBUS, GA (WXTX) -  It's been talked about for decades - combining the Muscogee County Sheriff's Office and Marshal's Office.

Now, officials say they want to tone down the heated debate, by getting down to the facts.

Columbus mayor Teresa Tomlinson has called for a study to be done on consolidating the agencies to see if the move could save money.

In addition to law enforcement duties (the Muscogee County Marshal's Office is one of two in the state of Georgia with law enforcement authority), the Marshal's Office serves the Municipal Courts and has a budget of $2 million.

The Sheriff's Office serves state and superior court and runs the jail, along with their law enforcement mission. The sheriff says his budget is around $27 million a year.

"Hopefully, this assessment will allow the Marshal's Office to have the opportunity to share with Columbus what it is they do, whether or not they add value to our community, whether or not they're a productive part of our law enforcement strategy in this community. I feel comfortable that they are but we need to prove it and that's what this assessment will be about," the mayor said.

Sheriff John Darr says he hasn't thought about a consolidation before but will wait to see if the assessment finds any savings.

"I think what most people in this community want is a good, professional law enforcement agency, whoever it is, if it's the Sheriff's Office, Marshal's Office and Police Department, that's what they want and I think that's what they get with three agencies. As far as anything with benefits and cost savings, the assessment will show that hopefully. I don't think this is anything political. I think what it is is just trying to take a smart approach to some of the situations we're dealing with in the city government these days," he added.

The Muscogee County Marshal Greg Countryman welcomes the study. His deputies served 30,000 civil processes last year.

"This is the people's office and I think that the people should see how the Marshal's Office serves the community. When I took office, it took eight weeks to get a simple eviction done. Now, we've narrowed that down to two weeks. So, the office is very efficient. The fees are very reasonable for those who utilize the office. This is the place where the average citizen can come in and not have to deal with an attorney and file their own lawsuit, their own eviction," Countryman said.

This issue did appear on a countywide ballot in March 2000 and was voted down.

Mayor Tomlinson says the study will cost between $60-70,000.

The money will come from 2012 Local Option Sales Tax funds and the mayor will be asking for the council's approval of the assessment and money to pay for it.

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