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Staff Photo by Angela Lewis Foster/ The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 5/20/15 Commissioners Tim Boyd and Joe Graham.

Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk Vince Dean has asked for $400,000 from the county general fund in the fiscal year 2016-17 budget to cover projected revenue shortfalls.

The request is in addition to an unexpected $300,000 request he made in April for the current budget, which the county commission unanimously approved. Dean said he needed county money to cover salaries because of revenue shortfalls.

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Vince Dean
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Criminal Court clerk office salaries are funded by a portion of the felony-related fees collected by the office.

On Tuesday, Dean discussed the matter during a budget hearing session with county commissioners.

"We are turning things around," Dean said. "You don't turn this type of situation around overnight."

The total proposed Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk budget amounts to $3.95 million. Salaries amount to $2.65 million and include $7,000 in overtime and two new positions that pay $28,000 each. The office employs 60 people, including Dean.

Dean blamed revenue shortfalls on state rules governing the amount and speed in which criminal court clerk offices receive their share of collected fees. His office cannot depend on criminals to pay their fees, either, he said.

"The problem lies in that the revenues are not coming in," Dean said. "Our clientele chooses not to pay what they are ordered to pay."

Commissioner Joe Graham asked if technology upgrades would help the office's revenue flow.

Dean said the problem was less a technology issue than a state remittance policy matter, which he described as "kind of like a shell game with money."

Commissioner Tim Boyd, who was not at the hearing, voiced criticism of Dean's latest request. He said he wanted to know if Dean has considered cutting salaries to align with revenues.

Last month, the pair sparred over whether Dean's $300,000 request was a budgetary issue instead of a revenue shortfall.

In the private sector, Dean's situation would be described as "mismanagement of funds," Boyd said.

At the time, Boyd also said he would have preferred to have seen a criminal court clerk office budget that included a $300,000 shortfall instead of having to deal with such a large request in the last quarter of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Dean said county financial officers instructed him to delay the request until he knew for certain what his office would need to finish out the year.

Based on the data available a year ago, Dean said he would have originally asked for $500,000, but he ultimately needed much less after taking cost-cutting measures.

In his parting comment to Boyd, Dean confirmed that he would ask for more money at the beginning of the new budget cycle.

"So, at that time, we'll have the conversation whether it really is good to ask for it ahead of time, or when we need it," Dean said.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com.

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