Sheriff's budget seeks $9.7M boost in funding

J. H. Osborne • May 1, 2013 at 12:08 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — As promised, Sheriff Wayne Anderson has submitted an amended budget request for the fiscal year that begins two months from today — and now he’s seeking about $9.7 million in new funding.

That’s up from his original budget request for fiscal year 2013-2014, which covers county finances from July 1 of this year through June 30, 2014.

Anderson initially submitted a request seeking about $8.3 million in new money to fund the public safety services he is, by law, required to provide.

Some of those include patrol, investigation, and operation of the county jail. All those things are covered by several accounts under the sheriff, within the county’s books.

Anderson now is seeking an additional $6.32 million under the sheriff’s office account, and another $3.37 million in new money under the jail account.

The current year appropriation for those accounts is $8.6 million and $7.9 million, respectively.

Under Anderson’s more recent budget request, filed with the county’s accounting office on Tuesday, the sheriff’s office account would increase to over $14.9 million, while the jail account would increase to nearly $11.3 million.

To fund the combined $9.7 million increase would equal about 28 cents on the county’s property tax rate, based on what each penny is projected to generate under the county’s current budget document.

The bulk of the new money Anderson seeks would be used to hire and equip new employees.

That much already was outlined in the earlier budget request that sought about $8.3 million in new funds.

The biggest change in the amended budget request filed Tuesday: It spells out the sheriff’s request to fund not only a 2 percent raise for all his employees — already won in the settlement of a lawsuit with the county last week — but also an additional 17 percent pay raise for all his employees.

That’s how much it would take to make Sullivan County’s pay for law enforcement officers to be in line with other law enforcement agencies, according to the request.

“The low salaries have made it difficult to retain existing deputies, assistants and correction officers and/or enable the sheriff to recruit and hire qualified, honest and effective deputies, assistants and correction officers when positions become available due to resignations or other attrition factors,” the request reads, in part.

Anderson, Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey, and their lawyers were in court a week ago today — but just long enough to announce they’d reached an agreement to settle Anderson’s lawsuit seeking more county funding for the current budget year, without going to trial.

After more than a year of back and forth, it was over in about five minutes.

The settlement agreement gives sheriff’s employees a 2 percent raise (retroactive to April 1) and states the county will spend $15,000 for work on an electronic gate inside the county jail.

Godsey said the Sullivan County Commission will consider extending that raise to all county employees come July 1.

A group of county commissioners has since introduced a resolution proposing making the 2 percent pay raise retroactive to April 1 for all county employees.

In court last week, both sides said they were happy to get it over with and move the county forward.

But that could just be the end of round one. Anderson’s lawsuit originally sought nearly $10 million — much of which was for additional personnel.

Early on, the court ordered the sheriff to trim the request, because under state law an officeholder is allowed to file suit and seek only something officially requested in a prior budget request.

Anderson’s official budget request for the current budget year did not include a request for those new employees. So that was stricken from the lawsuit.

But Anderson has since had a study conducted and a report prepared by a recognized expert in staffing levels for law enforcement agencies.

Anderson has cited that report, as well as one from the state-funded County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS), in submitting a funding request for the budget year that begins July 1.

Because Anderson has filed the request this year, along with explanations making his case for why the funds are needed, it means if the County Commission turns him down, and he files suit again, the requested funds would not be as easily dismissed next time.

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