Using $140,000 in recurring opioid remediation funds, the Hamilton County mayor's office is asking the County Commission to create a data analyst position that would support the government's grant writing efforts.
David Roddy, special adviser for Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp, and Chief of Staff Claire McVay told commissioners during a meeting Wednesday that there is a strong desire across multiple functions of county government to have a more robust approach to acquiring grant funds.
Roddy spent 14 years on the Chattanooga Police Department's SWAT team and another four years as the department's chief of police. Every grant he's ever applied for, Roddy said, has been data-driven.
"Your grant application is evidence-based and has been for many, many years to the point that a lot of your grants nowadays actually require, especially if you're a government entity, that you partner with an academic partner to help you in that data acquisition, data analysis and future data measurements," he said.
There are a limited number of partners available for that kind of work, Roddy said, and having someone in-house would allow the county to produce real-time data to respond more quickly to ongoing trends.
"This person could potentially -- based on scale, scope and bandwidth -- be able to apply their data expertise into other parts of county government," Roddy said. "We're only limited by our resources and our imagination."
Wamp told the commission his team came to the conclusion that the county needed to beef up its data analysis capabilities following meetings with law enforcement, the health department, emergency medical service officials and leadership at Erlanger Health.
"It's our belief that this is a position that would inform our ability to make the wisest decisions moving forward," he said.
Wamp said the county is in the early stages of determining the best use for the county's opioid abatement dollars, which are being distributed to governments across the state of Tennessee.
"There are different types of opioid funds that will come to us," he said. "Some have very tight restrictions. Some do not."
He expects the county will receive in the range of $10 million to $15 million in the coming years. The commission has already accepted $1.5 million from the Tennessee Opioid Abatement Council, a panel established to determine how to spend money the state has received from lawsuits related to the opioid crisis.
Wamp said the funding for the data analyst position would not come out of that $1.5 million allotment, which must be spent on opioid abatement and remediation purposes.
Including benefits, the salary for the posting would be about $100,000. It would be funded over an 18-year period, Wamp said, and would not result in a cost to taxpayers. The position would be housed in the Department of Economic and Community Development.
According to the resolution, the county would receive $140,000 for four years starting in fiscal year 2024. That amount would increase to $250,000 per year starting in fiscal year 2028 and lasting through 2038.
"I'm really glad you guys brought this up," said Commissioner David Sharpe, D-Red Bank. "I've been screaming for more data for four years now, and I'm really excited about it."
He asked if the mayor's office had considered bringing on a third-party organization to collect data as opposed to a county employee. Roddy responded that an in-house employee ensures more continuity. Also, a contractor may adopt too much of a clinical approach to data gathering.
"It forgets those nuanced, anecdotal parts of the fact that each one of those data points that we're looking at is also a resident or a child or someone in our county," he said. "I just prefer that personal, nuanced part to that data collector so that they're in it, and they're not just a contractor."
The commission will vote on the funding at 9:30 a.m. next Wednesday in the fourth floor chambers at the Hamilton County Courthouse, 625 Georgia Ave.