published Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Bradley officials halt merit pay plan

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — A plan to provide merit pay raises for Bradley County Sheriff’s Office employees failed to win County Commission approval Tuesday evening.

In order to fund the first step toward the raises, Sheriff Jim Ruth had proposed delaying some capital spending purchases — such as cars and data processing equipment — in the 2011-212 budget.

The vote on a motion by Commissioner Connie Wilson to approve Ruth’s plan and implement it halfway through the fiscal year in January failed on a 7-7 vote. Eight votes are needed for passage in the commission.

The yes votes were Commissioners Terry Caywood, Jeff Morelock, Brian Smith, Cliff Eason, Adam Lowe, Robert Rominger and Wilson.

Some commissioners said they worried that delaying purchases now only would increase the spending needed later.

Others said they are getting calls from other department heads saying they want a merit pay raise, too, but don’t have a revenue stream comparable to that of the sheriff’s department.

“My concern for this is the recurring cost,” Commissioner Bill Winters said. Any delayed capital expenses are not going away, he said.

“All we are doing is pushing these costs out into the future,” Commissioner Ed Elkins said. “There is no tax increase this year, but [the proposed raise] definitely raises the expenses next year, and the revenue outlook is somewhat cloudy.”

“My No. 1 priority is the people,” Ruth said, adding that he is not asking for a tax increase and “now is the time to act.”

While applauding Ruth’s creativity, Caywood said he is “a realist, and I know we have to deal with the revenue.”

Caywood and others said they would like to see a merit pay raise plan for all county employees.

“We have beginning firefighters who work at, in my opinion, just above the poverty level,” Caywood said. “I really believe we have to address all departments.”

All commissioners who spoke said they support the idea of pay raises based on merit.

Lowe suggested using the sheriff’s department as a pilot program and studying the results before going countywide.

In other budget action, the commission added $15,683 to the Bradley County Election Commission budget.

The election commission asked for its original budget request to be restored so a part-time employee could become a full-time worker in time for next year’s elections and redistricting based on the 2010 census.

Mayor D. Gary Davis said the full proposed budget will be published Thursday. A budget vote is scheduled for July 18.

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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