Unicoi County budget committee begins work on Sheriff's budget

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Jun 19, 2018 at 9:48 PM

ERWIN — Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley sat down for a work session with the County Commission’s Budget Committee on Tuesday and came away with two new deputies, one new investigator and two new patrol cars closer to the more than $1 million in new funding he requested for his department.

Still in negotiations for more personnel, more vehicles and other department needs, the sheriff agreed to rework his budget with several line item amendments requested by the committee and without the 5 percent pay raises he initially requested.

The committee meeting ended with an agreement to return to the table for further work on the sheriff’s budget in at least one additional session before the budget goes up for a vote before the full commission in July or August.

In Tuesday’s discussion of his department’s staffing, Hensley told the committee he needs funding four new patrol deputies to keep up with an significant increase in call volume and two additional investigators to assist two existing investigators who are overwhelmed with cases.

The sheriff said he also needed and another full-time secretarial staff member to assist his two full-time and one part-time secretaries and to also serve as an evidence custodian. The new secretary would train to replace his lead secretary and budget administrator, who will retire next year.

The requests for a total of six new officers was down from the seven included in Hensley’s original budget request.

The committee, which is bracing for an estimated $90,000 decline in property tax revenues, agreed to fund salaries and benefits for two new deputies at a cost of $40,000 each, and to wait and see if an application for grant funding for school resource officers and a request for sheriff’s department funding from the town of Unicoi come through.

The committee also agreed to fund one new investigator at a cost of $45,000 in salary and benefits by requiring the sheriff to restore funding for an investigator position he used along with other funds within his department to put two deputies on the road after this year’s rash of school shootings made school resource officers a must at every county school.

“I was forced to do that when I took two deputies off the road to put in schools. That’s the trouble you get into when you start moving things around. I’ve robbed Peter to pay Paul,” Hensley said.

By restoring the investigator salary he transferred, Hensley said he would lose one deputy but agreed the committee’s funding of two new deputies will save the department money currently being spent on overtime.

Hensley continued to push for a fourth investigator saying, “I have three investigators in the budget. I need four,” and for a new full-time secretary he said “will wear many hats.”

Committee members Jason Harris and Todd Wilcox opposed new funding for secretarial position. Harris noted the committee had denied the same request from the mayor’s office and Wilcox said he still could not get over the county’s anticipated loss of three cents on the penny value of its property tax rate.

In discussion of new patrol cars for the sheriff’s department, the committee agreed to provide $36,000 for one car, and $11,000 to to $25,000 grant available for a second car. With that commitment from the committee, the sheriff said he would purchase a third patrol car with funds earned through an upcoming sale of surplus equipment.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.



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