HOW THEY VOTED
Chester Bankston — abstained
Greg Beck — yes
Tim Boyd — no
Jim Fields — no
Joe Graham — no
Larry Henry — no
Warren Mackey — no
Mitch McClure — no
Fred Skillern — no
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond’s $275,000 deficit might be closer to $675,000.
That prospect prompted a county commissioner to call Wednesday for an in-depth review of Hammond’s spending.
“I’m shocked,” Commissioner Joe Graham said. “I think an audit may be in line for answers.”
Last week, Hammond asked commissioners to dip into his office’s $1.3 million reserve fund for $275,000 to cover overspending for expenses such as fuel and overtime. Commission Chairman Larry Henry asked then about possible effects on the fund balance.
The Times Free Press learned this week the shortfall doesn’t reflect an additional $400,000 projected revenue shortage. That could leave Hammond’s fund balance with as little as $500,000 by June 30, the end of this fiscal year.
Hammond budgeted $3.1 million in revenue for the year. Early estimates indicate that the office brought in only about $2.7 million, County Finance Administrator Louis Wright said.
Wright cautioned that the projected $400,000 shortfall is a prediction and could change as more information becomes available in coming weeks.
When contacted Wednesday afternoon about the projected revenue shortfall, Hammond said his office had no immediate comment but is still combing the budget.
Earlier in the day, commissioners voted not to allow Hammond to use $275,000 from his reserves to cover this year’s budget overages. Commissioner Greg Beck was Hammond’s lone supporter, with Commissioner Chester Bankston abstaining.
Last year, commissioners approved a $325,000 increase to cover a similar deficit and after Wednesday’s meeting, Commissioners Graham, Henry, Mitch McClure, Warren Mackey, Jim Fields, Fred Skillern and Tim Boyd called for Hammond to regain control of his budget.
“He needs to get his finances straightened out,” Henry said.
The vote won’t stop the county from paying Hammond’s employees and bills, but it will likely garner an audit finding from the state Comptroller of the Treasury, spokesman Blake Fontenay confirmed Tuesday.
The Times Free Press has reported that Hammond has been spending money budgeted for vacant positions to pay at least $179,000 to part-time employees whose jobs aren’t funded. One of those is Hammond’s son, who makes $35 an hour as a part-time webmaster.
Commissioners also questioned Hammond’s travel budget and objected to raises the sheriff gave last year to his top officials.
After Wednesday’s meeting, Hammond said he had not decided what steps to take now that commissioners have denied the extra funding.
“I’ll just have to go back and get with my staff and figure out where we go from here,” he said. “I won’t say that we’ll do anything different until we take a look.”
Hammond did say that Wednesday’s vote might make it harder for him to stay within his budget next year.
“It will make it more difficult,” he said. “We are in some pretty rough economic times and law enforcement can’t just go out there and cut officers.”
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 ...