Hamilton County Sheriff's revenue dwindling; federal inmates down

photo Sheriff Jim Hammond.

BY THE NUMBERSFiscal year Sheriff's revenue2002 // $6.8 million2003 // $7.6 million2004 // $7.3 million2005 // $5 million2006 // $5.5 million2007 // $5 million2008 // $4.2 million2009 // $4.1 million2010 // $3.6 million2011 // $3.7 million2012 // $2.6 million*• Preliminary estimate of this year's revenue, which was projected to be about $3 millionSource: Hamilton County

Projected revenues for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office are down by 62 percent this fiscal year from a decade ago and 38 percent since Sheriff Jim Hammond took office.

But Hammond's office says that's because of factors outside his control.

Hammond was elected in 2008 after the budget process for the 2009 fiscal year, during which the office brought in $4.1 million in revenue.

Preliminary estimates for this year's revenue show the office short of its $3 million budget by about $400,000. Hammond and his staff have brought in about $2.6 million for the 2012 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

"Currently we are at about $2.6 million in revenues, but all the revenues for this [fiscal year] are not in yet and will not be for a while still," sheriff's spokeswoman Janice Atkinson said Friday in an email response to Times Free Press questions. "To estimate that we will be $400,000 short this early in the budget close-out process is not very concise at this point."

The sheriff's revenue comes from a variety of sources, including a portion of court costs, contracts with municipalities for patrol services, jail commissary profits, payment for boarding state and federal prisoners and the sale of seized goods.

Last week, seven of nine Hamilton County commissioners opposed Hammond's request for $275,000 in extra funding to cover overspending in the sheriff's office.

After the vote, Commissioner Joe Graham learned that the sheriff's office also likely will be short on revenue and said he plans to call for a special audit.

County Commissioner Fred Skillern said Friday he also wants a thorough financial review.

"If the [state] comptroller doesn't do an audit, I want our auditor to do an audit and bring back to us the status of exactly everything in the sheriff's budget," Skillern said. "Then I would like to see a report come to the County Commission from our auditor every three months during the year to see what his status is in every department."

County Finance Administrator Louis Wright cautioned that projecting revenue before the end of the year is like stopping a full-speed freight train on an exact spot.

"You're probably not going to get it right on the line," Wright said.

Much of the revenue for the sheriff's office comes from boarding inmates, though that percentage has been decreasing. In fiscal 2011, which ended last June, the percentage had dropped from 41 percent of revenue in fiscal 2010 to 38 percent, Assistant County Auditor Lee Brouner said.

The federal government reimburses the county at a higher rate than the state does, and the number of federal inmates is down.

"The feds have built new prisons and don't utilize our facility as much and there are now other county jails that also house federal prisoners that previously didn't," Atkinson wrote in the email.

In 2009, the county housed federal inmates for a total of 14,601 days. In 2011, that number dropped to 12,467, Brouner said.

Though the sheriff's office budgeted $870,000 for boarding federal inmates this fiscal year, the office had collected only $586,000 by Friday.

"We have no control of this," Atkinson's email stated. "We've used past historical data to make our estimates, but without having a crystal ball it's not an exact science."

The federal government determines where to place its inmates.

Calls placed to the Chattanooga U.S. Marshal's Office on Friday were not returned by press time.

The county's 4-year-old federal contract, which is being renegotiated, reimburses the county $59 for each inmate day, Brouner said.

The state's current reimbursement rate is $35, but rose to $37 last week. The increase is projected to yield an extra $200,000 in revenue next year.

Nonetheless, the county's proposed 2013 budget projects a net revenue loss of $300,000 because of a projected decrease of $500,000 for boarding federal prisoners.

The jail commissary numbers likely will be similar to last year, Atkinson said. In fiscal 2011, the commissary generated $390,000, with about $88,000 in profit.

"We hope to take a similar amount for 2011-12, but again, we can't say for sure until the fiscal year is over and all accounts are closed out," she said.