By Ian Berry
Hamilton County commissioners began the first of four days of budget hearings today, with most departments requesting small increases for the upcoming fiscal year.
Among department heads requesting larger increases was Medical Examiner Frank King, who is seeking a 9.1-percent increase to $855,000.
Dr. King said he is "beyond" burnout after getting only 15 days off total during the past 18 months. He said a forensic pathologist position that is funded has gone unfilled because the benefits aren't good enough to convince someone to take the job.
Public Defender Ardena Garth is seeking a 141 percent increase in her office, mostly for new staff. That office received $296,186 this year.
District Attorney Bill Cox presented a request to increase his budget 5.9 percent to $813,295. But he said that could change drastically if the state decides to fund urban district attorneys' offices this year. He said he has been lobbying for that change for years, and it may happen in 2006. He said the county's financial responsibility would drop accordingly.
Commissioners talked about inflation and the rising cost of benefits. A report prepared for the commission showed the county's overall budget has increased 6.81 percent since 1997.
"This is not a year to raise taxes," Commissioner Richard Casavant said. "But that doesn't mean the needs go away."
E-mail Ian Berry at firstname.lastname@example.org
See tomorrow's Chattanooga Times Free Press for full coverage.