Outlook on Hamilton County sheriff's request for extra cash uncertain

Outlook on Hamilton County sheriff's request for extra cash uncertain

June 20th, 2012 by Ansley Haman in News

Sheriff Jim Hammond.

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IF YOU GO

What: Hamilton County Commission meeting

When: 9:30 a.m. today

Where: 625 Georgia Ave., Fourth Floor Meeting Room

At least five Hamilton County commissioners who will decide today whether to approve Sheriff Jim Hammond's request for an extra $275,000 to keep the department in the black until June 30 agree on one thing.

They want to make sure Hammond stays within his budget next year.

For the second year in a row, Hammond is out of money and asking commissioners for more. Last year they approved an extra $325,000.

"I don't think the votes are going to be there for it and, really at this point, I don't know if I can support it or not," Commission Chairman Larry Henry said Tuesday.

Refusing to approve the budget request today "may send a message, too, that he needs to get his house in order," Henry said.

On Tuesday, Hammond declined to speculate on whether he would get the money.

"I'm not ready to comment on that," the sheriff said.

Commissioners Fred Skillern and Mitch McClure said they are leaning toward voting against the budget increase. Commissioner Joe Graham said he won't support it.

"It's one of those things that if you vote 'yes' or you vote 'no,' you have the same end result -- we're going to pay the bills, regardless," Skillern said. "I don't know how we get his attention that he just can't continue to go over budget."

Last week, county Finance Administrator Louis Wright told commissioners that workers and bills would still be paid even if they vote against the sheriff's request. Though the county's bond rating wouldn't suffer, Wright said the state comptroller of the treasury might send a letter to the county over the matter.

Blake Fontenay, spokesman for the state comptroller's office, explained that "the sheriff does not have authority to incur expenses greater than the funds appropriated by the County Commission for the operation of the office."

"Furthermore, the county does not have the authority to issue payments for expenses incurred by the sheriff if sufficient funds have not been appropriated," he said. "This would be a violation of state law that would result in an audit finding."

Commissioners Chester Bankston and Jim Fields said Tuesday they had not made up their minds on how they would vote today.

Last week, Commissioner Greg Beck said he would support the sheriff's request.

Commissioners Warren Mackey and Tim Boyd did not return calls for comment Tuesday.