CLINTON—Anderson County Sheriff’s Department employees and their supporters made impassioned pleas Thursday for more money to hire jailers, avoid service cuts, and cover higher operating costs.
They also objected to a proposal to cut the number of take-home vehicles for employees. Several said they would support a wheel tax to raise money for the Sheriff’s Department and other critical county services.
“Everybody I’ve talked to is for a wheel tax,” Anderson County Deputy Shawn Bannach said.
Some of those who supported new taxes, including an occupational tax, said workers who commute to Anderson County from other counties are using the county’s services but not paying for them.
Anderson County resident Rhonda Manley said Knox County residents are registering their cars in Anderson County to avoid the Knox County wheel tax.
“I think we need a wheel tax,” she said.
But during a budget hearing Thursday evening, members of the Anderson County Budget Committee continued to show a reluctance to raise taxes after increasing the property tax rate by up to 16.2 cents last year to pay for a major jail expansion and new alternative school, among other things.
“There are a lot of people suffering in this country still,” Anderson County Commission Chairman Chuck Fritts said. “We have to be very, very careful.”
Anderson County Sheriff Paul White has asked for an extra $2 million in his budget. The request includes $500,000 for 12 new cars and about $550,000 for 15 jailers to staff a 128-bed minimum security jail dormitory expected to open by June.
Extra money has also been requested for higher fuel, medical, radio, and contract costs, and fully funding the sheriff’s 166 authorized employees, Anderson County Interim Mayor Myron Iwanski said.
Iwanski opposes the requested increase, and he has repeatedly said the sheriff’s budget, which is now up to $10 million, has already doubled during the past six years.
“We’re asking the sheriff to work with us,” Iwanski told about 70 people at Thursday’s hearing at the Anderson County Courthouse in Clinton.
Iwanski has proposed a budget that does not include the 20 percent funding increase sought by White. He said other county departments, including his own, have had to cut staffs by up to 25 percent to balance budgets, and law enforcement agencies in other nearby counties are not getting budget increases.
Countering White’s proposal for 15 new jailers, Iwanski has proposed staffing the new dormitory with five new jailers who would be helped by existing support staff, a move that would cost about $200,000.
But Sheriff’s Department employees questioned why Anderson County built a jail that it might now have trouble staffing. Moving current employees to the jail could hurt existing services, Anderson County Lt. Kenny Sharp said, echoing a sentiment shared by other department employees and their supporters.
“If we start taking money away from the Sheriff’s Department, we’re going to reduce the level of services we’ve got,” said Kenny Bradley, executive vice president of the Tennessee Police Benevolent Association.
Anderson County commissioners said the sheriff has enough funding.
“We believe there is money available in his budget,” Commissioner Dusty Irwin said.
Commissioner Jerry White said the two mayoral candidates in this fall’s election, Terry Frank and Warren Gooch, receive big rounds of applause when they pledge at public forums to not raise taxes.
“I think that’s the sentiment of the public,” White said.
The Anderson County Commission will consider the budget for the next fiscal year in special meetings at 6:30 p.m. June 4 and June 12 in Room 312 of the Anderson County Courthouse. The next fiscal year begins July 1.
See previous story on the Sheriff’s budget request here.