Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Sheriff Hensley defends budget increases

The Unicoi County Commission Budget and Finance Committee met in a work session with Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley for more than two hours on Monday, July 20.
Much of the meeting was spent discussing Hensley’s department’s budget increase for the 2015-2016 fiscal year. The increase over the 2014-2015 budget is more than $384,000.
“It doesn’t matter who is sheriff,” Hensley said during the meeting. “This is me getting by with the minimum we need to keep us certified and not have any problems down the line.”
Problems with keeping up with codes will cause problems in the future, including future litigation and loss of revenue for the department, Hensley added. After considering a lawsuit over his budget during last year’s budget discussions, the sheriff told commissioners that the county would not receive a lawsuit from the sheriff’s department.
“I will tell you right now, I won’t sue the county,” he said. “But if I’m sitting in a federal court, you will be beside me. The state says that if a sheriff’s department provides adequate evidence for the budget that the county has to supply the funds and I feel like I was able to do that this evening.”
Prior to the start of the work session, Hensley met with County Mayor Greg Lynch and Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice to help chip away at the earlier projected $560,000 budget increase that was presented to the commissioners on Tuesday, July 14.
During a previous budget meeting, commissioners addressed the issue of inmates working on vehicles. Commissioner Gene Wilson mentioned that he discovered that the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department has a contract worked out with a mechanic that is $80,000.
Hensley responded by saying that the department has looked into that in the area but has run into problems.
“These garages need to make money and we looked around at estimates,” he said. “One of the problems you run into is if, say your car is on the rack, and my car goes down, and I need it then, they’re not going to take yours right off the rack to fix mine. Not to say they won’t fix it.
“These cars can go down at anytime and it can be something simple but, I then have to hunt for cars to put a deputy in.”
When asked about the inmates working on vehicles, Hensley said they assist the supervisor at the garage adjacent to the jail but that one of the additional costs of his new budget is for hiring a certified mechanic for $35,000.
“I thought you had a mechanic,” Commissioner Kenneth Garland said.
Hensley responded: “We did at one time, a part-time guy, but had to cut it out of our other budget.”
The department provides different assistance to the community, Hensley added, with an officer taking out up to five inmates to assist with cleanup across the county.
The current budget is made up of making six part-time jailers full time and hiring deputies, along with retaining a maintenance worker. The jailers, along with cooks at both jail facilities and a teacher to help with rehabilitation allows the jail the operations to bring in state inmates. Any loss to the funds could cancel that out and not allow the jail to be profitable for the community, Hensley said.
• • •
After the conclusion of Hensley’s time with the board, Commissioner Glenn White voiced his opinion about the course that needs to be taken going forward.
“We need to do something to grow our economy,” White said. “This is why I was a supporter of the (Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County). We need to get these grants for water, sewage … but we have to be proactive in helping our mayor get the money together to fund these projects so we can grow.”
While not a popular idea across the board, White added the county may need to impose a property tax increase. Talks of a potential tax increase varied from 12 to 13 cents as of Monday’s meeting.
“I see having to raise taxes,” White said. “To keep the sheriff’s department working in a full capacity and with the other departments … we can’t just keep cutting and cutting. I just don’t see how we can do it without raising them. Taxes aren’t an evil but sometimes they’re a necessity.”
Monday’s meeting saw the county working with a $258,814 shortfall. The committee previously opted to include more than $120,000 from the funds the county received for the sale of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital and Mountain States Health Alliance to reduce the shortfall.
The current shortfall does not include potential employee health insurance changes, changes to sales’ taxes for the school system and projected $100,000 in revenue from state inmate funding.
• • •
The Commission has a loaded-agenda for this week, including meetings at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, July 22, and 6 p.m. Thursday, July 23, before meeting on Monday, July 27, for a vote on the 2015-2016 budget before the July 31 deadline.
County officials will host a meeting to discuss employee health insurance at 4:30 p.m. on Monday. Commissioners voted July 13 5-3 to reconsider the amount the county is subsidizing employee family health coverage.
Lynch stated that county attorney Doug Shults voiced his opinion on employees’ insurance and that commissioners were taking the wrong approach. Lynch encouraged that commissioners attend the meeting.
Following the insurance board meeting, a budget work session will be held at 5 p.m. that will lead into the regularly scheduled Commission meeting at 6 p.m.