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Sheriff opts not to sue county

Following the Sept. 22 meeting of the Unicoi County Commission, Sheriff Mike Hensley stated that he planned to sue the county over his 2014-2015 fiscal year budget. However, by Thursday, Sept. 25, Hensley had changed his mind and said he would not being filing the lawsuit.
During the Sept. 22 commission meeting, the board voted 7-2 to approve the 2014-2015 budget, which included $3,180,172 in expenditures for the three budgets – sheriff’s department, jail and jail annex – for which Hensley is responsible. Hensley told the panel on several different occasions prior to the Sept. 22 meeting that he could not operate on that budget.
The $3,180,172 budget also forced Hensley to eliminate four deputy positions, one court officer and one jailer position, as well as maintenance personnel.
“I’m to the point where I am going to get in serious trouble,” Hensley previously said. “I cannot overspend my budget. I have expenses that I have to meet and the budget I have due to the increase of different things that are out of my control. … There is no other office that has cut as much I have. I am at the point where I can’t cut no more and they are still forcing cuts on me that are going to cause me serious problems.”
Hensley originally requested $3.5 million in expenditures for the 2014-2015 fiscal year for his budgets.
Hensley and County Mayor Greg Lynch called a press conference for local media Thursday afternoon. At the start of the press conference Lynch said, along with County Bookkeeper Phyliss Bennett, met with Hensley and UCSD secretary Joy Grindstaff to discuss the budget and the pending lawsuit.
“We’ve come to an agreement on the budget,” Lynch said. “Sheriff Hensley has signed a letter of agreement, which essentially eliminates the possibility of a lawsuit. I would like to commend the sheriff for doing this.
“In consideration of all the citizens of Unicoi County he felt he could take the budget his was given and work within it … ,” Lynch continued. “I am very glad to get this behind us. There has a been a lot of speculation, a lot of ill feelings and a lot of rumors, so hopefully we can move forward. … We are going to haveto do a certain amount of healing in Unicoi County because of some of the things that have been stirred, not just as a result of this, but as a result of the last three years.”
Lynch went on to say that Hensley and Grindstaff “crunched numbers” and believe they can operate within the $3,180,172 budget. However, it is possible that budget amendments will be necessary.
“It’s going to be tight,” Hensley said. It’s going to be hard, but we’re still able to operate and answer the calls.”
Hensley said Thursday that operating two jail facilities is “one of my biggest expenses.”
“There is no question that it would be a big savings to the taxpayers of this county to operate only one jail,” he added.
Hensley also said that he has contact the County Technical Advisory Service (CTAS) and the Tennessee Corrections Institute and requested a feasibility study be done regarding closing the jail and using the jail annex as the only jail facility.
Hensley also discussed his department’s need for new vehicles, which was a topic of much debate between him and some of the commissioners during the budget process. He said the department has 13 vehicles with more than 150,000 miles and five with more than 200,000 miles.
The department will soon be receiving some assistance purchasing vehicles, Hensley also said.
“Working with Mayor Lynch, hopefully, we have secured a grant that will help us with those vehicles,” he added. “I have applied for a $15,000 grant that I have been granted to use toward the purchase of new vehicles.”
The presence of school resource officers (SRO) paid for by the sheriff’s department in the school system was jeopardized by the budget cuts. Hensley said Thursday he is “committed” to the school system and currently has officers at Temple Hill, Unicoi County High School and Unicoi Elementary and will keep them stationed there until he is told by the school system that it plans to move forward with contracting with Murray Guard to provide security at the schools.