Sheriff's budget under scrutiny

Sheriff's budget under scrutiny

May 15th, 2011 by Dan Whisenhunt in News

Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry said Friday that the County Commission needs to take a harder look at Sheriff Jim Hammond's budget request, which included a $1.3 million increase.

The sheriff's $28.7 million request includes an $831,000 increase for operations and a $476,000 increase for capital expenses.

But the request omitted some information. Hammond did not list raises he gave to his top administrative staff. He also did not tell commissioners how much he is paying his son, Jimi Hammond, who works part time as the department's webmaster.

"I think we're still going to have to look at the sheriff's department a little bit stronger," Henry said.

County commissioners spent last week hearing funding requests from departments and agencies that receive county funding. Commissioners and Mayor Jim Coppinger will consider those as they craft the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Coppinger has warned that the loss of $10.5 million from the expiration of the city-county sales tax agreement will mean budget cuts.

The sheriff's budget request shows Jimi Hammond is budgeted for 20 hours a week at $35 an hour with no county benefits. The head of the sheriff's IT department said Jimi Hammond works every week.

The sheriff said he normally does not include the names of part-timers and their salaries in his budget requests.

"He's not a regular employee," Hammond said. "He's not entitled to normal things. All of our part-timers work at will. Sometimes I lay them off, and sometimes I add them back."

Don Gorman, director of administration and one of the staffers who was given a raise, said the raises weren't included in the budget because the requests were due March 31 and the raises were given in the middle of April.

Gorman said the $476,000 increase in capital expenses is to cover the cost of additional vehicles and to upgrade the department's radios to all-digital because of a federal mandate. Gorman didn't provide a line-item breakdown but said the biggest increases in operational expenses included more money for part-time employees, fuel costs and four more full-time employees.

"With all the cuts in budget, I feel sure that they will not be approved," Gorman said of the additional staff.

Hammond said the salaries of his administrative employees in the budget requests aren't supposed to reflect the raises he gave them. In his request he pulled the IT department out of administration and created a new category for it, making it appear at first glance that he cut administrative costs.

"You might think it's a bit of a shell game, but I assure you it's not," Hammond told commissioners Monday. "We've moved them to the proper positions."

Hammond said Friday that the bottom line is that he doesn't exceed the budgets the county gives him.

"I have yet to exceed the money they've appropriated to me," he said.

Commissioners said not having all the information from the sheriff and other departments made it more difficult for them to do their jobs. On Monday, Skillern asked for an attorney's opinion about whether Hammond could approve raises without commission approval.

"I don't feel we got the whole truth from everybody, and I think the commission [would make] a better decision if we got the whole truth," Skillern said.