published Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Hamilton County Sheriff seeks budget boost

Sheriff Jim Hammond speaks to the media at the Hamilton County Sheriffs Office in this file photo.
Sheriff Jim Hammond speaks to the media at the Hamilton County Sheriffs Office in this file photo.
Photo by Jake Daniels.

TOP SHERIFF OFFICIALS SALARIES

Fiscal 2012 salary — Fiscal 2013 salary — Increase

Gene A. Bennett, director of Support Services: $69,355 — $71,455 — $2,100

Allen Branum, chief deputy: $87,000 — $89,610 — $2,610

Patricia Anne Brown, executive secretary: $44,500 — $47,000 — $2,500

Ronald Parson, deputy chief: $69,355 — $71,455 — $2,100

Donald Gorman, director of administration: $69,355 — $71,455 — $2,100

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond warned county commissioners when he asked them for a 7.7 percent budget increase Monday that several areas of this year's budget already are in the red by at least six figures.

County records show individual overages in the sheriff's department totaling almost a half million dollars. But those numbers don't always add up against last year's approved budget and this year's requested salary totals.

Hammond is asking for a $1.85 million increase to the $26.95 million commissioners gave him last year.

Hammond said the department's overtime budget is already $260,000 in the red for fiscal 2012 and also said food costs in the jail are overbudget by at least $100,000.

"The overtime budget has been something very hard to deal with," Hammond said. "We had so many employees leave this year."

When employees retire or quit, they can take their banked leave in a lump sum or require the department to continue paying them while having to fill their position with another person.

County commissioners are holding budget hearings this week for fiscal 2013, which will begin July 1. The sheriff, an independently elected constitutional officer, must request his budget from the commission -- which sets tax rates and approves budgets.

Mayor Jim Coppinger told commissioners Monday that he asked department heads and constitutional officers to "hold the line as much as possible" from last year's budget totals.

Once commissioners approve the sheriff's budget, Hammond has great flexibility to change it. But he must seek commissioners' approval for any additional money.

Hammond hasn't asked for extra money to cover budget shortfalls this year, but county records show he might have to.

By the end of April, overages in individual areas of the sheriff department's budget totaled at least $485,393. The jail alone already has overspent $220,336 for overtime and had spent $100,018 more on patrol officer fuel than allotted for the year.

Hammond's administrative budget showed accounts in the red by $19,586 for medical services, $11,692 for miscellaneous purchasing services and $21,683 for Internet service.

Last year's commission-approved budget numbers don't always match the sheriff's current budget numbers.

One inconsistency in many areas is longevity raises, where the current budget often exceeds the approved budget. And in most of the sheriff's departments besides administration, a comparison of employee salaries from last year to this year shows that almost none of the 300-plus employees received a raise.

County commissioners approved $5,400 for longevity raises -- which can be given for length of service -- in the sheriff's administration last year, but the sheriff's budget currently shows $9,400 for the raises.

This year's budget also shows an increase of $9,953 in base salary for five top officials.

By April 30, the criminal investigations department exceeded its listed $28,846 budget for longevity raises by $4,975, but the commission only allocated $14,100 to longevity raises for criminal investigations in last year's budget.

And this year's requested salaries list shows that only one criminal investigations employee, secretary Charlotte Garner, received any raise. Hers totaled $798.

Longevity raises in the civil process department also apparently exceeded the $10,875 allocated by the commission.

In other budget overruns, the fugitives department had spent an extra $26,385 to return inmates to the county. Criminal investigations also exceeded its current $50,000 overtime budget by more than 50 percent, records show.

Still, the sheriff's department began May with $5.2 million in unobligated funds to complete the final two months of the fiscal year.

Last year, the sheriff requested an additional $345,000 to make up a budget shortfall. About $210,000 of that was recently reimbursed by federal funding for the overtime and other expenses incurred during the April 27, 2011, storms.

The sheriff told commissioners Monday this year's March 2 storm cost the department about $65,000 in extra expenses while the investigation into the disappearance of Signal Mountain mother Gail Palmgren cost about $40,000.

"There are many variables in the sheriff's budget," Hammond said.

Next year's request

Hammond wants funding for five new corrections officers, four new patrol officers and two new detectives. He also wants a bridge retirement plan that would require commissioned officers to leave at age 60 but provide greater compensation to them until Social Security kicks in.

Commissioner Tim Boyd noted that "of that 7 percent of the budget, approximately half of that is probably related to personnel; the other half is operating expenses."

Sheriff's Finance Manager Jackson Ellis replied that "the bulk of that increase of $1 million is fuel."

In the new budget, the sheriff's office is asking for a $392,100 increase in fuel for patrol officers.

Hammond also wants $114,794 more for the fugitives department and a $136,018 increase in administrative operating expenses.

Hammond's new budget request includes $6,225 for administrative longevity raises.

about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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