Sheriff Jim Hammond leads rise in Hamilton County budget requests

Sheriff Jim Hammond leads rise in Hamilton County budget requests

May 14th, 2014 by Louie Brogdon in Local Regional News

BY THE NUMBERS

Nine constitutional officers and five county-supported agencies are seeking more funds for fiscal 2015 than they received this year:

• Sheriff's Office: $3.3 million increase

• County Clerk: $110,547 increase

• Ross' Landing: $104,695 increase

• Public Defender: $74,367 increase

• Register: 72,921 increase

• Election Commission: $50,456 increase

• Humane Educational Society: $50,000 increase

• Trustee: $32,025 increase

• Criminal Court Clerk: $29,187 increase

• District Attorney: $28,034 increase

• Juvenile Court Clerk: $24,109 increase

• African American Museum: $18,823 increase

• Circuit Court Clerk: $10,344 increase

• Soil Conservation: $4,174 increase

Jim Hammond

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

Document: Hamilton County Budget Hearings

Hamilton County Budget hearings document for budget year 2014-15.

Nine county constitutional officers and a handful of outside agencies are asking taxpayers for a combined $3.7 million over what they got last year, and Sheriff Jim Hammond takes up the bulk of the increase.

Hammond asked commissioners Tuesday for an extra $3.3 million for the new fiscal year that starts on July 1.

Among other things, Hammond wants to add 16 corrections officers to his staff, which would cost about $495,557, according to county documents. And he wants to implement a special retirement program for patrol officers and detectives that would allow them to retire at 55 with full benefits. He says the program would cost about $190,000 next year and would relieve future costs by getting higher-paid officers off the roster.

An aging jail, compounded by an increase in inmates who have mental health issues, is driving the need for more corrections officers, Hammond said.

He estimated that 40 percent of inmates at the jail have mental health issues.

"It's always been a labor-intensive jail -- but it's more so now given the condition it's in," the sheriff said. "We are having to do more services than we used to with more transports, more hospital visits and more security."

Tuesday marked the start of Hamilton County's budget hearings, which continue today. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said he expects to have his 2015 budget proposal ready next month.

The retirement plan Hammond is pushing would increase the county's retirement contributions to about a dozen officers from about 14 percent to just over 17 percent. That would allow those officers to retire at age 55, with 25 years of service, instead of the standard 30-year commitment.

Hammond says the measure could save his office money because retired officers would be replaced by younger, lower-paid ones.

Hamilton County Commission Chairman Fred Skillern challenged the math.

"We have estimates from other people who say it could cost way over $190,000. It could cost into about $500,000," Skillern said. "It sounds good, and it is a good thing, but can we afford it?"

On the other hand, Skillern expects at least some of Hammond's proposed jailer positions could be filled.

Bill Bennett, assessor of property, said final figures on revenue growth aren't ready yet.

Skillern said that revenue will be the key to determining what the county can pay for since taxes likely won't be increased.

"We will have a good bit of growth," Skillern said. "We're not going to be able to give everybody everything they are asking for, but we will do what makes sense."

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.