published Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Panel declines to fund new Bradley County deputy

Jim Ruth, Bradley County Sheriff
Jim Ruth, Bradley County Sheriff
Photo by Randall Higgins /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — A request to create and fund a new deputy position at the Bradley County Sheriff's Office failed to gain traction with the County Commission.

At a recent meeting between Sheriff Jim Ruth and the county's Law Enforcement Committee, no commissioners recommended funding the position, which partially would be paid for through a U.S. Department of Justice grant.

"We need that deputy," Ruth said. "We're already below the national average of deputies per capita, and it's only going to get worse."

Nearing deadline

The sheriff previously approached the Bradley County Commission about Community Oriented Policing Services grants for four more deputies but had no success. The current application period ends in a few weeks, according to Ruth.

The grant funds 75 percent of new deputy positions for the first three years, requiring a 25 percent local government match. The grant requires the position to be funded for at least a fourth year but provides no federal money after the third year.

The COPS grant can't be used to fill open positions; it must be used to create new ones, Ruth said.

According to Bradley County Sheriff's Office projections, the new deputy position would cost about $144,000 in salary and benefits over the first three years. At 25 percent, Bradley would be responsible for $36,000 of that, while federal funds would cover $108,000.

But in the fourth year, Bradley would be responsible for the entire cost of salary and benefits. Most deputies' salaries are $32,000 to $34,000. Benefits increase the cost for the county to $46,000 to $50,000 a year, Commissioner Jeff Yarber said.

Bigger outlay

With the fourth year included, the county would end up paying much more than its obligatory 25 percent, he said.

"This is not as lucrative as it looks right here," he said.

Commissioners cited concerns about the county's general fund balance and decisions about the salary budgets in the sheriff's office.

The sheriff's office budget consistently has had money left over in its salary lines for the last few years because of unfilled positions, Commissioner Ed Elkins said. However, that money has been spent on bonuses, longevity pay and fuel for police vehicles, he said.

Commissioners said they were reluctant to make too many extra demands on the general fund.

"We may need to go to whatever small fund balance that we have for some other emergency, or if we need more gas," Elkins said. "The cost of fuel will affect all departments across the county, not just [the sheriff's office]."

"It's a question of what we want and what we can afford," Yarber said. "We're strapped."

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