If You Go
The public is invited to sit in and hear details of the proposed school and county general fund budgets.
What: Presentation of Hamilton County Schools and general fund budgets for FY 2018-19
When: Schools budget at 9 a.m. Tuesday; general fund budget at 9 a.m. May 15
Where: McDaniel Building, 455 N. Highland Park Ave.
Nine school resource officers and an ambulance station for the Ooltewah-Georgetown Road area are among the public safety investments proposed in the 2019 Hamilton County budget, Mayor Jim Coppinger said.
There's also money to create a pretrial diversion team that will allow people accused of nonviolent, low-level crimes to stay out of jail while awaiting trial. That will save the county money and help with jail overcrowding, Coppinger said.
His finance staff still is crunching revenue numbers, but the 2019 budget is going to come in under $800 million, compared to $725 million last year. Of that, 66 percent goes to education and debt service for school projects, the mayor said.
A briefing on the schools budget for county commissioners is set for Tuesday, and the hearing on the general fund budget will be May 15. The public is welcome to sit in. Feedback from the briefings will be used to fine-tune the budget, which should take effect July 1.
Coppinger said schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson will present the schools budget, the first time for a superintendent to do so.
"He knows how he wants to present it, and I don't have a problem with that," Coppinger said. "He's going to come in with a lot of explanation as to why he needs what he needs."
Johnson already has said he's put $500,000 in the budget for more school resource officers. School safety has been top of the agenda in public discussions since the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Only 29 Hamilton County public schools now have resource officers. Coppinger said the schools intend to hire nine officers, and the county will kick in $350,000 to $400,000 to pay for vehicles and equipment.
"This is something we hear from the public is a need, and we're going to do that," he said.
Sheriff Jim Hammond said having the schools help pay for school resource officers is a good start on his goal of having one in every school. Just 29 of the district's 71 schools now have resource officers, and he has estimated it will cost $4 million to cover them all.
"It is a continuing problem for the next few years until we solve this issue," he said.
Hammond said he's going to be talking with municipal mayors and police chiefs about picking up the tab for resource officers in their community schools.
"It's expensive anyway you look at it, but I think it's the move in the right direction," the sheriff said.
The Ooltewah- Georgetown Road area is going to get an ambulance station. Rapid growth is resulting in more crashes and emergency response calls, Coppinger said. The station will cost $850,000 in capital expenditures. The $400,000-a-year cost of staff and operations will come from the estimated revenue growth of between 2 percent and 2.5 percent for the year, he said.
Five positions are being created in the corrections division of the sheriff's office to focus on pretrial diversion.
"When we're spending somewhere around $87,000 a day in the jail, the less prisoners I have, the better for us," Hammond said.
Director of Corrections Chris Jackson said that at any given time, 700 to 800 people are sitting in jail awaiting trial. Many of them are charged with minor offenses such as trespassing, shoplifting or public intoxication.
Many of them can't make bond but aren't public safety or flight risks. Getting them out of cells and into a program where they'll be supervised, perhaps wearing GPS or alcohol monitors, is better for everyone, Jackson said.
The judges are more comfortable setting lower bonds, while the defendants can continue to work, earn money to pay their fines and remain with their families, he said. And most of them are going to be sentenced to probation anyway when their cases finally go before the judge, Jackson said.
The cost savings also are considerable: maybe $5 a day compared to $75 or so to keep one person locked up. That will more than pay for the five people who will run the program, he said.
"Not only does it save taxpayer dollars, you're basically putting these people on supervision they're going to be on anyway," he said.
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at email@example.com or 423-757-6416.