Hammond seeks $30 million Sheriff's budget - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Hammond seeks $30 million Sheriff's budget

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN. (WRCB) -- Sheriff Jim Hammond is asking Hamilton County Commissioners for a $30 million budget, most of which, he says, will cover costs that either are fixed or difficult to control.

"I'd like to add 11 people; four patrol deputies, five correctional officers and two detectives," he says. "But most everything else, are what we have to do, or have had to do."

The request represents about a $2.6 million increase to the spending for the budget year that ends June 30.

"We've actually had two years of 'perfect storms,'" Sheriff Hammond says.

The March tornado racked up at least as much destruction, and more overtime, in East Hamilton County than the tornadoes of the previous April and the snowstorms of the previous January.

"It's one of those areas as Sheriff, I had no control over," he says.

The search for Gail Palmgren, a Signal Mountain mother of two, ended when searchers spotted her  remains and her wrecked Jeep down a slop off of W Road more than seven months after she disappeared.

Investigators determined she was the victim of a crash, rather than foul play. The probe cost the Sheriff's Department more than $40,000.

But the real 'budget-busters,' Hammond says, come in the day-to day operations.

"Once they become your prisoner you're responsible for their cost."

Hamilton County's jail rarely holds fewer than 500 inmates.

But the sheriff says at least 100 should be in mental wards or other supervised care rather than in cells. Nevertheless, county tax dollars pay their room, board and medical bills.

"Transport eats me alive," Hammond says.

Deputies must ferry inmates to and from court. Move them from one correctional facility to another.

"If, by their classification, they need to go to the penitentiary in Memphis, I need one or more vehicles to haul them, plus chase cars to guard them. The overtime, the fuel costs, add up quickly."

In some respects, the budget-breaking begins and ends at the pump.  With two months left in the current fiscal year, the bill for gasoline and diesel already is more than twenty percent higher than the dollars budgeted for the full year; a $90,000 overage, climbing.

"You either park the cars or do the job (patrol and service)," Hammond says. "That's the choice."

To cover that backside, he's asking for $822,000 to cover fuel costs; almost double this year's $430,000 figure.

"If I don't replace at least 23 to 24 cars a year, I'm almost slipping backwards because of age and how the cars are run," Hammond says.

Hard. A patrol car is shot in three or four years.

"Almost any capital money they (commissioners) give us, will go into replacing cars."

Many newer models are 'flex-fuel,' able to deliver better mileage. But what Hamilton County buys depends upon who wins the state bid to supply government vehicles.

Hammond also is weighing the 'people factor.'

"The feedback I get from parents is that do not take the SRO's (resource deputies) out of the schools," he says.

"I don't want to have to take them. I don't know what's going to happen when we're faced with choosing, and something's gotta give."

County Commissioners open budget hearings are coming up on Monday.

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