published Friday, June 15th, 2012

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond short of cash

Sheriff Jim Hammond.
Sheriff Jim Hammond.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond made his case to county commissioners Thursday that his department needs an extra $275,000 to finish the year in the black.

He cited cost overruns in overtime, jail food costs, inmate transportation costs and fuel, as the reasons for his request.

"We have been able to absorb about $400,000 in overruns," he told commissioners during a Thursday agenda-setting meeting. "We were not able to absorb the last $275,000."

But many commissioners questioned the need, noting that this is the second year in a row Hammond has asked for permission to pull money from his reserves at the end of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Last year, he received commissioners' approval to dip into his reserves by $325,000.

The sheriff's reserve fund balance was about $1.3 million at the end of last fiscal year, County Finance Administrator Louis Wright said Thursday.

In the meeting, Commissioner Joe Graham said he won't vote in next Wednesday's commission meeting to give the sheriff more money.

"You predicted this in September and October and you had just gotten this budget," Graham told Hammond.

Graham asked Wright what the consequences would be for leaving the sheriff's department in the red for the year.

"We'll get a letter from the [state] comptroller's office scolding us," Wright said, though such a letter won't affect the county's AAA bond rating.

Commissioner Fred Skillern questioned the sheriff's fuel overruns, arguing that department was 45 percent overbudget in fuel costs while Skillern's personal business -- Dixie Souvenirs -- didn't see its gas prices rise that much. Skillern asked county workers to report back to him on the average increase in fuel prices this year over last.

Hammond said that, in an effort to save on fuel, he asked supervisors to park their cars.

Skillern also questioned Hammond's travel budget.

"I have taken one trip," the sheriff responded.

He was referring to a $6,779 trip to Reno, Nev., for a national jail expo he and two of his top jail officials attended in April.

Pointing out that the sheriff has two years left in his term, Skillern said "my wish is you're not back up here again seeking to amend your budget. We're setting a precedent for other elected officials and departments."

Commission Chairman Larry Henry said he thinks the annual requests by Hammond are "really getting to a critical point."

Commissioner Greg Beck said he would support Hammond's request next week. Other commissioners didn't say how they'd vote.

about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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