The County Commission has delayed until Wednesday a vote to fund an unexpected $300,000 request by the Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk.
Commissioners decided to wait after Criminal Court Clerk Vince Dean didn't show up for the commission's April 20 meeting and instead sent a letter explaining his need for more money. Employees in his office said he is away on vacation.
In his letter, Dean said he wanted to clarify the request for more money in the current fiscal year, which he initially discussed with commissioners on April 13. Some commissioners were upset the request came in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.
"The Hamilton County Finance Department will confirm that this issue was identified several months ago," Dean wrote. "The Finance Department advised our office to wait until we had a better understanding of our actual needs to present to the Commission."
Dean denied the shortfall was "a mismanagement or budgetary issue."
He said he needs the money from the county's general fund for personnel expenses. Criminal court clerk offices pay salaries from a portion of felony-related fees they collect and submit to the state.
In the April 13 meeting, Dean told commissioners state reimbursement rates have not changed since 2006.
Dean also told commissioners his office initially pegged the shortfall at $500,000 back in September. However, he improved collections and cut personnel expenses enough to save $200,000, he said.
Commissioner Tim Boyd said at the time Dean should have come forward sooner.
"If we have trends that have six-figure deficits this commission deserves to be a part of that conversation early on to understand what we're doing to combat these unbudgeted things," Boyd said.
Commissioner Joe Graham told Dean he was willing to help his office on a one-time basis, but called for a sustainable financial plan going forward. Graham said he would not support a recurring shortfall.
Boyd compared Dean's request to one made three years ago by Gwen Tidwell, who served as the Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk from 1994 to 2014.
Tidwell asked for $400,000, according to commission minutes for June 13, 2013. However, the situations are not quite the same.
Tidwell's request was made as part of budget planning for the coming 2013-2014 fiscal year, not the current year. She also asked for excess funds generated by her office.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger told commissioners then that constitutional officers are allowed to draw from their excess fee accounts.
Like Dean, Tidwell's request was intended for salaries, according to commission minutes.
Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or firstname.lastname@example.org.