ERWIN — Officials from the County Technical Assistance Service will be in Unicoi County this week to outline an upcoming study the agency will conduct examining the overall operations of the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department.
County Mayor Greg Lynch said he met with Sheriff Kent Harris shortly after Harris announced his intent to seek additional county funding on top of his department’s regular operating budget for items, including more personnel and new cruisers.
Lynch said he and Harris discussed the possibility of having CTAS complete a study looking at the sheriff’s department’s operations and the needs of the county’s jails. Harris was receptive to the proposal, Lynch said, and initiated the contact with CTAS to bring agency officials in for the analysis.
“Back when I talked to the sheriff about doing it, he didn’t hesitate one minute,” Lynch said. “He thought it was a good idea.”
CTAS officials will hold a public meeting Tuesday at 2 p.m. in the Unicoi County Courthouse, a couple of hours before the County Commission’s Finance Committee will meet to discuss the UCSD’s budget. Lynch said the agency’s representatives will present a “game plan” of the study, providing an overview and detailing what it involves.
“They’ll put down parameters of the study,” Lynch said. “They will put down parameters of how the study can be used, and they will also tell the timeline of the study.”
From what he has gathered, Lynch said the study would likely take three to four months to complete. It will be done at no cost to the county. Once complete, Lynch said he expects the study to make recommendations regarding UCSD staffing and budgeting, and ways to allow input into these matters through a committee made up of local officials.
“They’re not there to advocate for any one group,” Lynch said of the CTAS officials. “They’re there to find the best solution to any staffing and budgeting problems and try to keep our sheriff’s department and our jails within compliance of federal and state standards.”
In early July, Harris sent a letter to county commissioners outlining around $800,000 in additional budgetary requests he was seeking for the 2011-12 fiscal year, including funding to hire additional personnel and to purchase a dozen new cruisers. Harris previously said such items were needed to bring the department into compliance with minimum state standards and that he would not sign a letter of agreement with the mayor pertaining to the UCSD budget until the requests are resolved.
The Finance Committee met with Harris in late July to discuss the budget and his additional funding requests. Harris indicated at that meeting that he might be willing to make some concessions, including implementing an annual rotation system to purchase new cruisers. The committee voted to table consideration of the UCSD budget at that time.
“We came a long way in that meeting, and I don’t think anybody that was in there, except for a few people who might want to keep this thing stirred up, would argue that point,” Lynch said. “The sheriff and (UCSD Chief Deputy Ronnie Adkins), they already during that meeting started a spirit of cooperation, and so did the County Commission.”
However, because of the length of time needed to complete the study, Lynch said the county may not realize its benefits during this budget year.
The CTAS study will provide the UCSD with a thorough, third-party assessment of areas it is adequate in and others in which it may be lacking, Lynch said. He also said it would serve as a factual guideline and eliminate circulating misinformation.
“I would think, as a sheriff, it would be a good report card to see how things are going within your department,” Lynch said.