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Hawkins sheriff requests $673K in 2020-21 for employee raises, vehicles

Jeff Bobo • May 14, 2020 at 7:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE – Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson and his staff will have to wait two weeks to learn if a request for 7.5% across-the-board salary increases, as well as another $280,000 in patrol cars, will be added to the proposed 2020-21 county budget.

On Wednesday, the County Commission's Budget Committee wrapped up its first found of budget hearings with presentations by Lawson, as well as a $90,000 contribution increase request from Hawkins County EMS, a $3,000 increase for the county library system, and a $2,000 request for the Surgoinsville historical archive and museum project.

The committee will meet again on May 29 at 8:30 a.m., at which time it will begin voting on funding increase requests and departmental budgets heard on Tuesday and Wednesday, and determine what will be included in the second draft of the 2020-21 budget.

On Tuesday, the commission learned that the county general fund is projected to end this fiscal year on June 30 with an undesignated fund balance of $6.464 million, but the proposed 2020-21 budget is starting with a $494,997 deficit.

Sheriff seeks funding increase of $673,000

That deficit doesn't account for the additional requests, including the sheriff's 7.5% across-the-board raise for his staff, which is estimated to be a recurring cost of $343,000.

Combined with the sheriff's $280,000 request to purchase eight new fully equipped patrol cars, and another $50,000 requested for jail vehicles to transport inmate work crews, Lawson's overall funding increase request for 2020-21 is $673,000.

It might not be the optimum time to request more money from the County Commission.

The Budget Committee learned on Tuesday that the Hawkins County Jail’s revenue is projected to decrease $350,000 due to a reduction in the number of state inmates being housed there.

“$268,000 (saved) if we'd maintained these employees”

Lawson made his case before the committee on Wednesday, however, noting that he'd rather invest in his employees now, rather than spending money later to replace them when they leaver for higher-paying jobs.

“They haven't had a raise in a couple of years, and just so you'll know, in the last 22 months I've lost 68 employees,” Lawson told the committee. “I've lost five in the last 90 days. On the corrections side that cost me $78,278. Losing the experienced men that I lost on the sheriff's side of it, that was $189,813. Right there's $268,000 (saved) if we'd maintained these employees.”

Chief Deputy Tony Allen told the committee that HCSO deputies average $38,000 per year, and when they leave, the new job averages $50,000.

Commissioner Mark DeWitte suggested that even with the 7.5% pay hike, deputies will still likely “jump to a $50,000 job.”

“We're hoping that a little more money and the working conditions, and the county's support, will help them stay,” Lawson said.

About 10 patrol cars exceed 250,000 miles

Allen told the committee that the average patrol car lasts 4-5 years, and currently the HCSO has about 10 cars that have mileage exceeding 250,000 miles.

“We keep pretty good maintenance on them, but it costs a fortune to keep them on the road when they get that high,” Allen said. “The rule used to be 100,000 miles, but of course cars are better now and you can get 200,000 miles off a car pretty easy.”

Fully equipped patrol cars cost between $33,000 to $35,000. The committee discussed beginning a program where it cycles through about four patrol cars each year rather then getting hit with major purchases every few years.

Hawkins County EMS needs a new ambulance

Hawkins County EMS Director Jason Murrell presented the Budget Committee on Wednesday with a $90,000 contribution increase request, from $60,000 to $150,000. The new money would be used to replace one of HCEMS’s higher-mileage ambulances.

HCEMS currently provides five 24/7 Advanced Life Support units, one ALS power truck, and one ALS quick response unit.

Murrell reminded the committee about last year’s EMS exploratory committee, which recommended that the county embark on a joint venture with HCEMS.

“I know several other (funding) issues arose since this time, but ambulance service to this county is just as important as any other issue,” Murrell told the committee. “Hawkins County EMS responds to approximately 9,000 calls every year, with approximately 7,500 transports. Of the transports, approximately 6,000 are transported to facilities outside of Hawkins County with an average of 46.3 miles round trip per transport.”

Murrell added, “By replacing an older ambulance, the annual repair costs would decrease, allowing other critical equipment upgrades to be accomplished.

Other Wednesday funding increase requests

Hawkins County Library System Director Yvonne Woytovich requested a 3% increase in its county contribution, from $100,000 to $103,000, which would be used to help fund a 15-cent per hour raise for her staff in Rogersville, Surgoinsville and Church Hill.

Woytovich noted that all staff are part time and average about $8.40 per hour, while supervisors make about $13 per hour, and none receive benefits.

Teresa Greer, who represented a group creating a county historical museum and archive in the basement of the Surgoinsville Public Library, requested $2,000 to purchase a computer and software made for creating historical archives. 

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