As he assumes control of and combines the county's detention centers, Sheriff Jim Hammond is asking for a $20,000 raise to cover his efforts.
Hammond — fresh off of a stay in the hospital due to COVID-19 and with a wife still hospitalized by the virus — joined the Hamilton County Commission's virtual meeting on Wednesday and asked the body to increase his base salary from just over $143,000 to just over $163,000 annually.
"For over 40 years, we did not have to take on [the Silverdale facility] as a sheriff's department, but then suddenly the sheriff is asked to assume that duty," he said. "And as head of the department, I need to make sure to do the best I can to give the citizens of this county the best kind of law enforcement they can get including protection at the workhouse unit.
"I do feel very strongly about it."
His comments, delivered from his office where he sat next to new sheriff's office attorney Coty Wamp, were not well received by some commissioners, who argued the timing is inappropriate.
"I just have a hard time in the midst of a pandemic with businesses closing and people getting laid off, with going down this path unless the law tells us we have to," Commissioner Greg Martin said. "Unless I have a lot of folks not named Jim Hammond calling me from District 3 telling me 'Greg, this is a good idea,' it would just be hard for me to do that at this time."
Commissioner Katherlyn Geter added, "I appreciate your leadership and your service to Hamilton County in the role that you play. I'm having a hard time considering where we are in terms of being in a pandemic."
Hammond makes the minimum required by state law based on the size of the county. In comparison, Wamp said, Sheriff Tom Spangler in Knox County is paid $176,664, approximately $23,000 over the minimum.
"There's not been many counties in the state that have had this issue because there's not many counties in the state that have both a jail and a workhouse," Wamp said. "The reason that Knox County and Davidson County have come across these issues is that they're part of the 'Big Four' counties that have operated both a penal farm or workhouse and a jail."
According to Wamp and Hammond, both Spangler and Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall reached out and told the sheriff he should pursue higher wages under the state law which allows raises for "ex-officio" services, including taking over the detention center.
The proposed increase of around 14% would be Hammond's second raise this year, including a 3.5% pay bump allotted in the FY2021 budget, and would cost around $25,100 after benefits with a new adjusted base salary of $163,930.
Wamp also noted that both county Mayor Jim Coppinger and Property Assessor Marty Haynes receive more than the minimum on their respective scales, due to commission votes under previous administrations.
Commissioners Warren Mackey and David Sharpe argued that better compensation would lead to better service from the sheriff.
"You can avoid a lot of problems if you get good workers," Mackey said.
"Wage is something that has historically been an issue in Hamilton County," Sharpe said. "We talk about addressing poverty, strengthening families, different nonprofit groups that can help do these things. But the best way and the quickest way to address poverty is with a living wage. And that's something we haven't done well in a lot of cases.
"I did not know that we paid our sheriff literally the legal minimum."
Commissioner Tim Boyd told the sheriff that since the county was following the requirements, he would be inclined to continue to do the fiscally conservative thing and deny the increase.
"To argue that we should fall in line with the other counties is a moot point to me," Boyd said, "The other counties should fall in line with Hamilton County. We are the leader financially."
After the meeting, Hammond told the Times Free Press that he has been working around 40% more than usual to facilitate the jail merger and take over for private jail operator CoreCivic, and said that it was a fair ask.
"I'm kind of caught between a rock and a hard place," he said of the transition. "I want to say to the commissioners that I'm very capable of doing this and bringing us to where we need to be.
"This was not brought frivolously. It is something that has already been done by the other major counties, and I really feel that I need the support of my commissioners on this."
The commission will take up the matter next week.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at email@example.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.