Sheriff: $1.8M budget increase covers much 'we can't control' - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Sheriff: $1.8M budget increase covers much 'we can't control'

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -- By Tennessee law, Sheriff Jim Hammond has to operate Hamilton County's jail. But the expenses go beyond the three square meals a day for the 500 or so inmates.

"We're not a mental health facility, yet that's what we've become," he says.

Tax dollars provide medications to about 100 inmates diagnosed with a variety of mental conditions or illnesses. The tab?  About $250,000 this fiscal year.

It's but one line item in a $28,803,844 operating budget proposal he submitted to the Hamilton County Commission Monday.

"The situation that greatly worries me is the ratio of prisoners to corrections officers," Sheriff Hammond says.

The $10.97 million requested for detention center operations is about $400,000 more than the current fiscal year.  It includes funding for five more correctional officers.

"They've been working mandatory overtime so that each floor has more than one officer," he says. "The stress level that creates is incredible."

"I can't remember off the top of my head what the (overall) increase was," 4th District Commissioner Dr. Warren Mackey says. "But it didn't seem out of line to me."

The budget calls for  increasing capital expenditures by $311,000. Most of that would go to replace aging, high-mileage patrol cruisers.

"We're getting to the point where half the fleet cars will have 150,000 or more miles on them," the Sheriff says.  "That doesn't bode well."

To be honest, we don't have any more money to give him without a tax increase," 6th District Commissioner Joe Graham says.  "And I won't support a tax increase."

Graham says neither he nor fellow Commissioners are about to tell a constitutional officer how to manage his department's money.

"The question I asked him and he answered is--could we live within the budget," Graham says. "And he said he would live with whatever  we gave him."

The request includes funding for four new patrol deputies and two detectives.  "We're getting by without, now," Sheriff Hammond says. "But some things, we have no control over.

Once gasoline topped $3 per gallon, the budget was gone. His request for $822,000 represents a 91 percent increase over the current fiscal year, to end June 30.

So what's flexible?

"The SRO (School Resource Officer) program is the most vulnerable program iIhave simply because it's not mandated," the Sheriff says.

He requested $1.285 million dollars to continue supplying deputies for all Hamilton County middle schools and high schools. Most of those officers earn about $36,000 annually, according to budget documents.

"We need all hands on deck," Commissioner Mackey says. Everything we can get to help that program, to help that cause, I think we need to do it."

Graham, and the Sheriff agree that such officers provide a first line of defense to prevent at-risk children and teenagers from joining gangs or becoming victims of gang violence.

"Many are starting to believe they're necessary," Sheriff Hammond says. "It won't make resource officers vulnerable unless the county says to me, okay, you've gotta cut personnel."

Budget hearings continue Tuesday and Wednesday.

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