In the Columbia County sheriff's race between incumbent Clay Whittle and newcomer Lewis Blanchard, there's been enough number-crunching to make an accountant's eyes light up.
The candidates who will face off in the general primary elections July 20 have been busy compiling statistics about crime rates, per-capita spending and supervisor ratios.
What their numbers end up saying about the current sheriff's office administration depend on whose campaign materials the numbers appear.
For Whittle, who spoke last week to the Augusta West Rotary Club, the county's low crime was a significant figure to highlight.
He said that crime has decreased by 26 percent between 1996 and 2003 even as the county's population grew by 17.5 percent.
"Your getting an efficient sheriff's office for a great crime rate now," Whittle told the luncheon crowd, which was nearly half made up of Columbia County residents.
Lewis has made what he calls Whittle's "lack of fiscal restraint" a cornerstone of his campaign.
The Augusta businessman who formally worked in public safety for the Columbia County school system has charged the sheriff's office with ballooning its budget more than 122 percent since 1996 to a current level of nearly $15 million.
In response, Whittle says the budget is split among three separate departments - the sheriff's office, the 911 center - which is self-funded through phone charges - and the detention center.
He said the sheriff's office budget actually has increased 53.7 percent, the 911 center budget has increased 40.3 percent and the detention center has increased 123 percent since 1996.
Whittle said that the detention center's budget increased mostly because of construction of the new facility that opened in July 2002.
"We more than doubled our inmate capabilities and responsibilities," he stated in a recently compiled overview of issues. "We also undertook the awesome responsibility of court security for the new courthouse complex and all of its courts."
With no Democrat candidate signed on to compete in the sheriff's race, the winner likely will be decided in July unless a runoff is necessary.
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