Friday, March 28, 2008

Fair taxation and the Sheriff's department

With all the talk about annexation and consolidation here, and the upcoming negotiations to revisit the sales tax revenue split and service delivery agreement between the city and county governments, I'm starting to take a closer look at what services are offered and how they benefit taxpayers.

Particularly how county services benefit city taxpayers, who pay both city and county taxes.

I started with the Bibb County Sheriff's Office, which is funded through taxes collected countywide, but only actively patrols in the unincorporated area. My assumption was that city residents were subsidizing these patrols in the unincorporated area. This differs from fire service, for example, where unincorporated residents pay an additional millage for the service.

But it turns out the sheriff's department (above and beyond its duties of running the jail and serving warrants and subpeonas) answers a lot of calls inside the city limits. The city is not one of the department's official patrol zones, but the courthouse is in Macon, as is the jail and the department's gas pumps. So, logistically, sheriff's cars are inside the city limits a lot.

And, according to numbers provided by the department, deputies answered more than 8,800 calls in the city in 2007. This map shows the spread of calls for the department over the year. Click on it to enlarge:

The numbers break down like this:
Calls in Patrol Zone A: 13,797
Calls in Patrol Zone B: 17,107
Calls in Patrol Zone C: 14,945
Calls inside the city: 8,811

Sheriff Jerry Modena said the in-the-city calls are typically routine things - a deputy sees a Macon officer working a call and backs him up, or sees someone run a red light and pulls them over. The more serious crimes are seldom investigated by the sheriff's department inside the city limits.

In fact, when it comes to the 10 most serious crime categories included in federal "Uniform Crime Report" figures, the sheriff's office investigated more than 700 of them in each patrol zone in 2007. Inside the city, the number was 49.

But Modena also said some city residents call 911 and specifically ask for a sheriff's deputy, not a Macon police officer. I've asked him to provide me some solid figures on that.

By these numbers, it seems clear city residents get less work out of sheriff's deputies than unincorporated residents. But any argument that city residents don't get any patrol benefit from their county tax dollars isn't supported by these numbers. And Modena argues that, since more than 50 percent of the people processed at the jail are arrested by the city, that should counteract any difference in service level.

Just how many of those arrestees the city pays the county a nightly fee to house, and how that affects the numbers, is something I need to do more work on.

By the way, nearly 50 percent of the office's budget funds the jail. Patrol makes up 19.5 percent of the budget. Other sections of the budget (investigations, communications, forensics, etc.) would probably also be best allocated, for the most part, to benefiting the unincorporated area. But it's difficult to say how much.

Any way, this is just one of several potential issues of tax equity between Macon residents and unincorporated Bibb County residents. By the way, I asked the mayor's office for any double taxation studies that have been done here. Apparently there's nothing recent, but something may be commissioned.

1 comment:

Amy Morton said...

Okay, clearly lots of work here, Travis and an important topic, but let me just say: cool map.