David Grace firstname.lastname@example.org ?At a news conference Monday in Blountville, Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson announces plans to end the program that allowed officers to take their patrol cars home at the end of their shifts.
BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson announced a round of cost-cutting measures Monday to try and help make up for a shortfall in the county’s budget for the sheriff’s office and jail for the next eight weeks. Anderson also made public his request for help from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office.
Effective immediately, 126 vehicles are to be parked at the end of officers’ shifts — rather than being driven home by officers, as has been practice in the county for 20 to 30 years, Anderson said.
The plan should help conserve fuel — a major factor that caused the shortfall in funding for the sheriff’s office — Anderson said, but it also has a downside: reduced visibility in the community (patrol cars driving through and parked in neighborhoods where officers live deter crime and give a sense of security to residents) and more turnaround time if an officer is called out on emergency response from home (they’ll have to drive to the sheriff’s office and get their patrol car).
Other cuts outlined by Anderson included multiple “public relations” activities including boat patrols on Boone Lake, the Dreams Unit, K9 demonstrations, mounted patrols at public events, and a children’s camp to help prevent bullying.
Anderson said he called the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office last Thursday and asked that state auditors be sent to go over his department’s finances. Anderson said the auditors were in Blountville on Monday.
“I want to make sure we have not made any mistakes,” Anderson said.
Anderson did not offer an estimate on exactly how much the cuts might generate in savings.
But Anderson said he and his staff, working closely with the Sullivan County Commission and county accounting staff, are looking for any cuts needed to resolve the problem, which has been estimated to be a $200,000 to $600,000 shortfall. That gap, whatever its size, needs to be closed to make sure the sheriff’s office and jail meet payroll and have enough fuel to provide service until the current budget year ends on June 30.
“We only have about two weeks of fuel left,” Anderson said, noting he and his staff believe the sheriff’s office will need a minimum of $170,000 to cover fuel costs for the next eight weeks.
“This is not something we want to do,” Anderson said of the cuts. “But we need to do it. We want to show a real effort at the sheriff’s office to get this resolved. We just want citizens to know we are doing our best.”
Anderson said he hopes the cuts, and continued work between liaisons from his staff and the county, will prevent the need for further such efforts. The next step, Anderson said, would be to reduce the actual number of patrol cars covering the county each shift — from the current 13 to six.
“We could always call the (Tennessee) Highway Patrol, and they’d help us,” Anderson said.
The budget shortfall first became public about two weeks ago when County Commissioner Eddie Williams called an unadvertised “emergency” meeting of the Sullivan County Commission’s Budget Committee. That group later held a called meeting to discuss the issue with Anderson and his staff. The second meeting ended with both sides agreeing they needed to talk more — and with each side pushing the other to step up with a plan.
Anderson said the issue has produced one of the most difficult times in his 14 years as sheriff, but he is confident communications between the two sides are improved and the County Commission will work with the sheriff’s office.
County Commissioner Robert White, a member of the Budget Committee — and one who took Anderson to task last week for not offering something in the way of proposed cuts to help solve the shortfall — told the Times-News he, too, thinks progress has been made as the two sides have worked together in recent days.
“Great strides have been taken by liaisons from the sheriff’s department and a liaison from the County Commission to work together to discuss the sheriff’s plan,” White said. “I am encouraged by the very aggressive and very responsible plan of action the sheriff has implemented and look forward to discussing it further in the upcoming Budget Committee meeting.”
The Budget Committee’s next scheduled meeting is May 10.