published Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Bradley County budget vote Monday

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- The Bradley County Commission is scheduled to vote Monday on a proposed 2012-13 budget that does not contain a tax increase.

County Mayor D. Gary Davis previously said avoiding a tax hike was a key goal as the county approached its fourth straight year of flat revenues.

The proposed budget also achieves two goals of the Bradley County Mayor's Office: An increase in the county's general fund balance and a 1.6 percent raise for full-time county employees, Davis said.

While the budget proposal does not subject any departments to fiscal cuts, the mayor's office did request revised department budgets this spring reflecting what would "hurt them the least," Davis said.

Law enforcement officials say their budget limitations have put them under strain.

"The sheriff's office is in a crisis position," Bradley County Sheriff Jim Ruth said in a recent County Commission meeting.

An understaffed corrections department of 78 personnel is a "high risk" inherited from past administrations, he said.

Bradley County corrections facilities originally were scheduled to be staffed by 92 officers, Ruth said, but 14 of those positions previously were transferred to court and vehicle maintenance budgets.

Ruth also said a recent County Technical Assistance Service survey indicated that the county actually should have 104 corrections officers.

"In the future, something's got to be done," Ruth said.

The sheriff also wants to implement a merit pay program for county law enforcement.

It is hard to attract and retain good people to "create a professional sheriff's office," Ruth said, without better pay.

While the resubmitted budget for the sheriff's office does not include increases in corrections staff or a merit pay program, county commissioners have taken the first steps to implementing a merit pay program for all full-time county employees.

The committee formed to study the creation of a unified salary and benefits system for all county departments, led by Commissioner Terry Caywood, now is gathering job description and pay data from Bradley and other counties.

If a viable program can be developed, compensation study officials said they hoped it can be implemented once the county's revenues are expected to pick up in the next few years.

In other budgeting concerns, Commissioner Adam Lowe asked that nonprofit organizations the county funds make presentations before the full commission in the future.

"As one who tends to be an advocate of quality of life, I think there's certain things we invest in the community, and we've got to do a better job of showing folks how and what," Lowe said.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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