By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — North Carolina’s Alcohol Law Enforcement agency would become a part of the State Bureau of Investigations under a plan being considered by the Legislature’s Subcommittee on Appropriations for Justice and Public Safety, though lawmakers and legislative staff stressed that the organizational chart they took up for discussion on Tuesday is a “very early snapshot” of what the Department of Public Safety could eventually look like.
Faced with an executive order from Gov. Bev Perdue that would put Corrections, Juvenile Justice and Deliquency Prevention, Crime Control and Emergency Management all under one umbrella and the task of finding $230 million in spending cuts to help bridge the state’s $2.4 billion budget gap, the joint committee made no quick decisions and offered no guarantees.
“Nothing is off the table,” Chairman Sen. Thom Goolsby (R-New Hanover) told the group when Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake) asked if the Department of Public Safety chart meant the committee was no longer considering the elimination of State Capitol Police (SCP) and Alcohol Law Enforcement.
Eliminating ALE, at an estimated savings of $9.5 million, was on a list of some 75 potential cuts initially being considered by the subcommittee. But Goolsby said the agency, which employs roughly 112 officers, plays a role in rural counties with drug investigations and other crimes that makes it fit well with SBI.
“There was initially a talk about dealing with some of those functions just being given right over to SBI, but the importance of ALE as mentioned by the members and their concerns about it caused us to look at putting ALE underneath SBI,” he said.
Kristine Leggett, with fiscal research staff, said putting ALE and SCP under SBI would cut administrative expenses while increasing purchasing power and training availability. She said the governor has associated her overall consolidation plan with roughly $4 million in savings in the areas of human resources, procurement functions and eliminating duplicative positions. The equivalent of at least 60 full-time jobs would be cut by the second year, and more savings would come from combining administrative, fiscal, budgeting, auditing, engineering and facility management functions in addition to other areas such as general counsel and research, she said.
Some lawmakers criticized the staff’s organizational chart — a simple outline showing six divisions under the Department of Public Safety (Law Enforcement, Adult Correction, Juvenile Justice, N.C. Crime Lab, Emergency Management and Administration) and their various subdivisions — as lacking the budget information necessary to facilitate informed discussion. But others emphasized the fact that it was simply a beginning point and that the governor’s executive order had been equally vague.
“We are learning; we are hearing from the general public. We heard from the general public and staff and a lot of people back home in reference to ALE and how important, not so much the department, but how important that function was in our community back home,” said Rep. David Guice (R-Henderson). “When you get letters from sheriffs and others who talk about how important that is, actually it raises the level of concern about who is going to monitor alcohol consumption and overseeing who gets permits and those types of things.”
Guice said one of the things he heard repeatedly from sheriffs is that, based on past experience, alcohol enforcement responsibilities are best handled by a statewide agency so that “competing factions” in the community don’t create inconsistencies.
“Then they (ALE) bring a tremendous amount of resources to the community to help us with local issues,” he said.
“We’re glad to see the critical role of ALE being recognized,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Obviously cuts must be made, and lawmakers have a huge task ahead of them. But we believe savings can be found in other areas that would be much less hazardous to the health and welfare of our state than making any cuts in ALE.”
Poring over the chart, which did not include funds for Butner Public Safety, Civil Air Patrol or prison chaplains, lawmakers shared a number of concerns from overcrowded and poorly staffed prisons to fears that young people in the Juvenile Justice system would be regarded as hardened criminals or that the State Capitol Police would not fit well with SBI.
Guice urged fellow lawmakers to take what staff had prepared and draw their own organizational charts to accommodate the governor’s consolidation plan, which will become law unless the Legislature passes a bill to alter or reject it by the end of the 2011-2012 biennium session. Even so, he reminded them that their purpose is two-fold.
“We’re still looking for $230 million,” he said. “We’ve got to find these cuts.”