ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Commission failed to approve a budget amendment Monday to pay the person who was hired last week to supervise jail inmates working at the county recycling center.
The main argument in favor of the hiring was to get the county back into recycling plastics, which has been requested over the past three months by many residents who don’t like the idea of sending plastic to the landfill.
That service was suspended in March after a jail inmate worker escaped from the Lakeview recycling center, an incident that revealed lax supervision by the Solid Waste Department’s previous inmate supervisor.
There were multiple arguments against filling the position as well, including the fact that it will add another $30,000 of recurring expense to the solid waste fund, which is already projected to operate at a $188,000 deficit in 2018-19.
A proposed budget amendment to pay the employee probably would have been approved Monday under a normal vote. However, it was deemed to be an out-of-order resolution, which requires a unanimous vote by the commission to add to the agenda.
When that vote was taken, Commissioner Mike Herrell cast the lone no vote, killing the amendment until the July meeting.
Why is the position vacant?
Only misdemeanor inmates who have committed nonviolent crimes are allowed out on work details, and their supervisors must receive Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) training and certification.
Bryan was captured 10 days later, but the investigation revealed that the previous inmate supervisor at the recycling center had given inmates more liberty than they were supposed to receive.
Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said they were left unsupervised at times, allowed to go to the store by themselves, make phone calls, and when Bryan escaped, it wasn’t even known for about two hours.
As a result, Lawson suspended the inmate work program at the recycling center until the Solid Waste Department hired a reliable inmate supervisor.
Lawson said he trusts the recycling center’s new inmate supervisor, who is a retired corrections officer who “knows how to handle inmates.”
Public outcry for plastics recycling
The loss of inmate labor resulted in the recycling center having to suspend its plastics program.
Commissioner Mark Linkous, who chairs the Solid Waste Committee, told the commission Monday he had receive numerous phone calls about plastics recycling.
“We had to do something,” Linkous said. “When people care enough about recycling, we’ve got to accommodate the people who are paying to have all this stuff done. It’s a benefit they wanted and would like to have back. They didn’t want to see it taken to the landfill and just sit there for years and years.”
Commissioner Stacy Vaughan expressed concern about increasing the solid waste fund’s deficit, which is utilizing savings to balance its 2018-19 budget.
Linkous said the goal is to break even between the cost of the new employee and revenue generated by plastics recycling.
Mayor Melville Bailey said a part-time employee was made full-time inmate supervisor on June 21, and the budget amendment sought Monday would have paid him until the fiscal year ends June 30.
The position will also have to be approved in the proposed 2018-19 fiscal year budget, which is expected to come up for a vote next month.
A lengthy debate
Commissioners discussed the inmate supervisor position for about 35 minutes.
Commissioner Dawson Fields said he objected to increasing taxpayer spending for an inmate supervisor because he believes people who receive community service sentences through Sessions Court should be assigned to the recycling center.
Linkous said that for some reason Judge Todd Ross and probation director Danny Henry won’t assign community service to the county’s solid waste department.
“You want to know who the problem is? Those two guys are the ones over the people going out (on community service),” Linkous said. “Until we can get them to work with us, and get them (people sentenced to community service), we’re spinning our wheels.”
Herrell said the commission should hold off on the amendment and simply approve the position next month in the next fiscal year budget.
Bailey said there’s not enough in the employee salary line item to pay the new supervisor until the 2018-19 budget is approved.
The position will be discussed when the full commission meets again to review the proposed 2018-19 budget on July 6.
Another potential solution
Clerk of Courts Randy Collier told the commission that a new state law that goes into effect July 1 will give him the authority to allow people who can’t pay their fines and court fees to “work off” that debt.
Collier said he would decide where those people work, and he would be inclined to support county services such as recycling and roadside litter pickup.