Warren County Sheriff Tommy Myers is requesting a $1 million increase to his fiscal year budget for 2019-20.
The majority will fund 16 new correctional officers at a cost of $471,668 in salaries. Also increased will be Social Security by $44,838, pensions by $67,244, and other salaries and wages by $143,452 for a total of $727,202.
Myers says additional officers are needed to increase supervision of inmates to prevent them from destroying the jail.
“We do need direct supervision on these inmates,” Myers said. “For years our jail has been torn apart by inmates. The big part is because we don’t have direct supervision. We don’t have the staffing to have someone in that pod 24 hours a day. I’m sure you remember the $700 lights. We had to strip those all out because we had to continuously replace them. The assaults that go on. The broken jaws. The medical bills. We can go on and on about the things that happen because we don’t have the staff to directly supervise the inmates.”
Members of the county Safety Committee and County Corrections Partnership Committee met to review the proposed budget request for fiscal year 2019-20.
The jail currently has 36 officers covering four shifts.
Myers proposed adding those additional officers to oversee male inmates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“It’s the men that give us a problem,” said Myers. “Women don’t. We have four pods. With an extra four per shift, I could have direct supervision in each pod 24 hours a day. That’s going to solve a lot of our problems. The state says we need 30, but I think I can do it with 16.”
Also requested is a $25,000 increase in maintenance and repair, from $50,000 to $75,000, as well as slight increase requests in law enforcement equipment, utilities, medical and dental services, deputy overtime pay, in-service training, vehicle maintenance, vehicle purchases, and cost of uniforms.
Salaries is a recurring expense.
“You’re not going to be able to fill 16 in the first year,” said Commissioner Carl D. Bouldin, who suggested slow increases in personnel each year over a 16-officer jump in one year.
Myers replied, “We probably could.”
Bouldin suggested possible revenue streams: 1) increasing jail fees; 2) Tennessee Department of Corrections pays Warren County Jail $50 a day to house its inmates. Allowing those funds to be used at the jail rather than being transferred to the county’s General Fund; 3) Using excess revenue from Warren County EMS.
“I do know they’ve turned in $382,000 the last two years,” said Bouldin, of the funds transferred from EMS to the county’s General Fund at the end of each fiscal year. “We could take 3 cents from the ambulance and direct it toward the Sheriff’s Department and that with the other funds would give them right at $500,000.”
The suggestion brought a swift reaction from Commission Ron Lee, who is chair of the county’s Safety Committee, which oversees EMS.
“You’re just robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Lee. “We’ve had two ambulances wrecked this year. We were down and it cost us a lot of money. Don’t get me wrong. I am loyal to EMS, but it’s silly to rob Peter to pay Paul. We need to step up and take care of the jail.”
Bouldin stated, “It’s not robbing Peter to pay Paul if they don’t need it. You wouldn’t operate your business that way.”
“When you have a car wreck, it’s $28,000,” said Lee. “When we have one, it’s $250,000. That’s how much an ambulance costs. I know insurance helped us for some of it. We need to concentrate on the jail and take care of it like responsible commissioners should.”
Committee members reviewed the proposed budget for informational purposes only and made no changes. It will be sent for consideration by the county Financial Management Committee, as well as Budget and Finance Committee.