Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond to cut jobs in hopes of staying within budget

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond to cut jobs in hopes of staying within budget

December 24th, 2012 by Beth Burger in Local Regional News

Sheriff Jim Hammond speaks to the media at the Hamilton County Sheriffs Office in this file photo.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.


Recommendations from the jail cost study committee:

• Designate a team (ideally 10 people) to be responsible for mental health transports.

• Shift responsibility from jailers to court officers to watch inmates in court.

• Renegotiate with Corrections Corporation of America so that Silverdale corrections officers transport inmates, rather than sheriff's office staff.

• Renegotiate so medical staff picks up blood samples at the jail rather than relying on corrections officers to deliver them.

• Push for video arraignments so fewer officers are tied up.

• Have fewer officers working overtime at the jail.

Source: Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond and Director of Administration Don Gorman

Determined not to go over budget for the third year in a row, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond says he'll furlough some part-time employees and even park patrol cars, but he doesn't plan to lay off his son, the department's $35-an-hour webmaster.

"I told the [Hamilton County] Commission I'm going to come in under budget," Hammond said. "It may be that we have no cars. It may be they are sitting on the side of the road ... We're going to jockey around and be as austere as we can."

In the first third of the fiscal year, the sheriff's office has spent $10 million of its $28.2 million budget, or about 36 percent. Fuel, jail food and overtime for corrections officers have all cost more than expected, department figures show.

Hammond said he'll indefinitely furlough several part-time employees, including an armorer, records clerks and his next-door neighbor, Donald Klasing, on Jan. 1 to save $60,000. Klasing was among several Hammond friends given jobs that weren't in the 2013 budget that Hamilton County commissioners approved.

Hammond said he can move money among budget areas, and he'll cut travel and training expenses to save money. Yet with overtime costs at the jail running twice the amount budgeted and spending on items such as food untouchable, it's unclear whether his adjustments will be enough to head off problems in the coming months.

"I won't cut food. I'm going to feed the prisoners, but I will cut mandatory training, at the risk of having problems with certification," he said.

He also has formed a committee to examine jail expenses and has asked the University of Tennessee's County Technical Assistance Service to conduct a manpower survey.

But Hammond said he has no plans for other layoffs.

"I'll do everything to keep from doing that," he said.

The blame game

Hammond says the blame for the tight budget lies with Hamilton County commissioners.

That's who sliced his requested 7.7 percent budget increase for the 2013 fiscal year to 3.7 percent.

"If I'd had even half my requests last year, we wouldn't be in [this situation], but it is what it is," he said. "I'm not going to go back over there and ask for more money. I've got to figure out how to do it with the budget they gave us, which I will stand up and say, as I always have, it was an underfunded budget."

But Hammond has failed to make budget in the past two fiscal years. In 2011, commissioners voted to give him an extra $325,000. Last year, the county finance department audit showed him over budget by about $275,000, but commissioners declined to make up the difference.

If he goes over this year, "he's welcome to ask us for anything he likes, but I'm not going to be very inclined for any increase to his budget," County Commissioner Joe Graham said.

"We give him the revenue according to his budgetary needs, and then we basically get out of the way. It is the sheriff's responsibility to stay within budget," he said.

Hamilton County Finance Director Louis Wright said a new audit by the finance department should be released within the next week.


Hammond was criticized this year for asking county commissioners for money and then hiring his son, Jimi Hammond, as a full-time webmaster.

But Hammond said the position is essential.

"Because you couldn't run this department anymore without them," he said. "The day has gone by when you can run without a webmaster."

He said the coming layoffs -- including career development officer Jerry Redman and Klasing, who works at the courthouse at an information desk -- will hurt.

"My programs will suffer for it, which I think are more than just fluff programs," Hammond said.

At least a couple of people have expressed interest in volunteering rather than earning money.

"I think he [Klasing] has decided he wants to volunteer because he enjoyed doing it," Hammond said.

Klasing has made $14,513 so far in 2012, according to finance records.

"If we find we get to the point we can afford them, they will be brought back," Hammond said.

Making the cut

Going forward, Hammond said while gas and food costs are on track now, he plans on going to county officials if he goes over a line item.

If it comes to that he says he will argue, "I cannot feed prisoners any less than this. I cannot drive cars with any less than this gasoline. ... And I realize what we have set as a line item isn't going to make it," Hammond said.

He said he wants the commission in the future to earmark money for each budget line item rather than a lump sum for him to figure out how to stretch.

"They probably aren't going to do it. They'll just give money and say figure out how to spend it and where to put it," he said.

Graham said he might be open to the commission allocating funding for line items throughout the sheriff's office, but it would have to be the entire sheriff's budget -- not just a couple of expenses.

Wright said money is allocated to each county department, and department heads are expected to manage it.

"We give them a lump sum, and they decide to budget individual amounts. That's not something we do," Wright said. "That's up to [the sheriff]. He has a total amount in his budget, and it's up to him to come in beneath that."