Sullivan County Budget Committee reschedules meeting, jail funding proposal not yet discussed

J. H. Osborne • May 25, 2019 at 10:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Budget Committee again canceled its scheduled meeting this week, the third time it has done so in as many weeks. That means the panel has yet to discuss a proposal to increase the sheriff’s budget by $1 million to add 20 new jail employees, which supporters say will increase safety for both inmates and officers inside the county’s significantly overcrowded jail facilities.

The Budget Committee now has scheduled a meeting for 4 p.m. on May 29.

For months now, Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable and others have said the county commission will approve a comprehensive budget for FY 2019-20 before the new budget year begins on July 1. The Budget Committee has met several times — largely to review departmental requests and recommendations for funding from the commission’s two other committees — but has not seen a proposed budget document.

The county’s chief financial officer has predicted no new revenues for the year ahead.

The Budget Committee ultimately presents its budget recommendation to the full 24-member commission, which must hold a first reading and give advance public notice prior to a final reading and vote.

The committee’s meeting will take place nearly two weeks after the commission voted to allow the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office to request the $1 million in new funding. The vote did not actually increase the sheriff’s budget or authorize the actual hiring of any new employees. It simply sent the request to the Budget Committee for consideration while a budget for the upcoming fiscal year is being developed.

Commissioners said they believe there is a need for more employees at the jail to increase safety of jail workers and inmates, but they will not support a tax increase to pay for the requested funding. The county’s budget director indicated a tax increase is the only option for funding the request.

On Friday afternoon, Sullivan County’s main jail and its extension housed a total of 947 inmates, staff said.

The Tennessee Department of Correction prepares monthly reports detailing inmate population numbers for 120 jails across the state. The latest report available provides a one-day “snapshot” as of April 30. Among its findings:

The statewide average of how many inmates are pretrial is 51.1 percent (for FY 2017-18, which ended June 30, 2018). To date for the current year, the average is 50.8 percent.

 In Sullivan County’s jails, 68.7 percent of inmates were pretrial on April 30 (up from 64.9 percent on March 31 of this year). The figure for the main jail alone was 70.2 percent. 

In Washington County, the pretrial number is 40 percent (up slightly from 39.7 percent on March 31). In Hawkins County, the number was 43.2 percent (down from 45.4 percent on March 31).

 Sullivan County’s two jail facilities were operating at  160.7 percent capacity on April 30 (up from 144.9 percent capacity on March 31).

Washington County’s two jail facilities were operating at 104.8 percent capacity on April 30 (no change from March 31).

• Hawkins County’s jail was operating at 96.6 percent capacity on April 30 (down from 109.4 percent capacity on March 31).