CLINTON—For now, Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank has dropped her proposal to cut funding for the county law director, and she has worked with the budget director to put together a plan to hire 15 new jailers for a jail expansion that could open in November.
But it’s less than half the number of new jailers requested by Anderson County Sheriff Paul White for the 212-bed expansion of the Anderson County Detention Facility, which could be completed in November.
“They understand the budget constraints,” Frank said of the Sheriff’s Department. “In this tight economy, we’re doing the best we can.”
Frank said the goal is to avoid a property tax rate increase in the budget that will considered by Anderson County Commission in June. The county is now in its second full year without a tax increase.
“It’s a tough budget year,” Frank said. “People are just trying to hold the line.”
The sheriff had requested an extra $3 million for 34 new jailers and money for capital projects, including $500,000 for cars. Frank and Chris Phillips, Anderson County account and budgets director, have developed a three-part plan to provide an additional $750,000 to hire 15 jailers.
“That’s what we could come up with,” Phillips said during an interview with Frank at the Anderson County Courthouse in Clinton on Monday.
The three-part plan would pay for five jailers, estimated to cost about $250,000, through a budget variance that recognizes that revenues typically come in higher than expected, and some money is turned back in.
Another five jailers could be funded through a restructuring of the relatively new alternatives to incarceration program, which was started under a two-cent property tax rate increase a few years ago but is now without a director. Frank had proposed reducing the tax rate through that restructuring, but she now recommends using it for jailers instead.
An expected increase in revenue from holding state inmates at the county jail could cover the costs for another five jailers.
The proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 was approved by the Anderson County Budget Committee in a 3-1 vote last week. Frank chairs that committee, which also includes Anderson County commissioners Dusty Irwin, Steve Mead, and Tim Isbel.
The budget will be the subject of public hearing at 6 p.m. May 30 in Room 312 at the Anderson County Courthouse, and the Anderson County Commission will consider it during a regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. June 17.
At least one commissioner suggested progress has been made.
“Commissioner Isbel’s persistence in asking for a detailed budget has paid off,” said Anderson County Commissioner and former Interim Mayor Myron Iwanski. “I was pleased we now have the needed budget details and that work is progressing toward resolving the staffing issues at the jail. I believe that with a few changes this budget can be balanced and address the jail needs without a tax increase.”
A few special meetings having also been scheduled to discuss the $104 million budget, which has $24 million in the general fund, including one at 6 p.m. Monday, June 10, and another at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 13.
Under the proposed budget, employees would not get a pay raise. It would keep the property tax rate at $2.532 in Anderson County, $2.35 in Oak Ridge, and $2.503 in Clinton.
Frank had proposed reducing the budget of the Anderson County law director’s office by 16.5 percent, but she said she took it off the table last week because it could have led to an impasse.
“I never intended it to be a distraction to the process,” Frank said.
The mayor said the budget in her office has increased by about $109,000, including through the hiring of a full-time assistant and a chief of staff, positions that county officials said have historically been part of the office. But overall, Frank said, she’s realized a net savings of about $162,000, or more than a penny on the tax rate, by restructuring offices, eliminating the grant program and having her chief of staff do some of the work, cutting the number of employees in the pre-trial program from three to two, and contracting out planning and zoning work, among other things.
Frank said her goal now is to help the county grow economically and let increased tax revenues take care of increased costs.