Monday evening local resident Allen Poindexter told Surry County Commissioners that he is concerned about $50,000 in raises to four Surry County Sheriff’s Deputies. Poindexter is among other residents who have voiced some concerns about the raises commissioners approved at the board’s March 16 meeting.
Additionally, Poindexter accused the Surry County Sheriff’s Department of breaking the North Carolina statute that governs the sale and trade of confiscated firearms.
Poindexter, who says that he will be running for a seat on the Surry County Board of Commissioners in 2016, told commissioners that he is concerned about the level of transparency the board uses when making decisions that affect the tax dollars of Surry County residents.
Under North Carolina law the Board of Commissioners is entitled and in some instances required to speak about personnel matters, including the salaries of individual employees, in closed session. However, the board must take any action once it returns to open session and is in front of the eyes of the public.
Often times action is taken in an expeditious manner after lengthy closed session meetings. Commissioners quickly read an employee number, and offer an explanation such as “up from pay grade 61 to pay grade 62.” This was the case at the March meeting in which the four deputies received sizable pay increases.
That process is one that Poindexter said he believes leaves the average county taxpayer out of the loop regarding how tax dollars are being spent.
A Surry County Sheriff’s Deputy enters the county’s force with a salary range of $24,276 to $39,768. The four senior deputies have each moved up a pay grade, with the maximum pay for their respective grades at $66,060, $52,344 and $47,748.
Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson the move was a cost-saving one.
According to Atkinson if a deputy reaches 30 years of service and chooses to retire prior to reaching the age of 62, the county is required to pay a portion of the deputy’s salary until the former deputy turns 62 years-old. Atkinson said that his department was faced with doing this in the cases of the four deputies whose respective ages are 53, 54, 54 and 50 years-old, and each moved up a pay grade.
Atkinson said that rather than pay the retirement allotment plus hire four new deputies, the $50,000 in funding was moved from the retirement pay line item in his budget to the salaries of the four deputies in an attempt to give an incentive for them to stay on the force.
Atkinson also said that the four deputies who received the pay increases are crucial to his department’s operations. “They are the cogs that make this department run,” commented Atkinson.
Atkinson also said, “If we had simply let them retire, we would have been faced with paying them to sit at home while we paid the salaries of new deputies.”
According to Atkinson this is the first time he or any other sheriff of which he knows has used this measure. “We picked the cream of the crop to try this experiment on,” said Atkinson. “I stand by this decision as the right one in this instance.” Atkinson added that he doesn’t plan to use the measure for deputies who are nearing the age of 62.
Atkinson stated that though it was his idea to give the pay increases instead of paying retirement benefits, many others signed on to the idea. “All county commissioners, county staff and the county attorney were present during the closed session. We all agreed it was the right thing to do,” said Atkinson.
Atkinson said that Monday evening wasn’t the first time concerns regarding an April firearms transaction have been raised. However, the sheriff denies any allegations of wrongdoing regarding the trade of four firearms with no visible serial numbers.
Under North Carolina General Statutes a law enforcement agency is permitted to sell or trade some firearms that have been confiscated from crime scenes. One requirement is that firearms have a visible serial number. If they don’t, the weapons are supposed to be destroyed.
However, prior to a 1968 federal statute firearms weren’t required to have serial numbers. When 65 firearms were traded to a Tennessee federally licensed firearms dealer in April, the weapons included four firearms that were manufactured prior to 1968. Thus, Atkinson said they had no serial numbers.
According to Atkinson the fact that the weapons were old enough to have not been manufactured with a serial number made the requirement for a serial number null and void. Atkinson pointed to the 1968 statute as the law under which the firearms trade was legal.
The four firearms with no visible serial numbers included a Remington 341 .22 caliber rifle, a Sears 101.100 .410 gauge shotgun, a New Haven 371 .410 gauge shotgun and a Derringer black powder pistol, according to the documents from the firearms transaction.
Upon request, Atkinson made court orders that authorized his department to sell or trade each of the 65 firearms available for inspection. Additionally, officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said that the the Surry County Sheriff’s office was not under any investigation for the firearms transaction, nor was it aware of any violations by the department.
In the April firearms transaction Atkinson’s department received $3,328 in credit from the trade of the 65 confiscated firearms. The credit was applied to the $4,461.48 purchase of three Benelli tactical shotguns and accessories.
Atkinson said the equipment was needed by his department, and if not for the trade of the confiscated firearms the Surry County taxpayer would likely have footed the entire $4,461.48 bill.
Andy Winemiller is a staff writer at the Mount Airy News. Andy can be reached at (336) 415-4698 or email@example.com.