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Sullivan sheriff sues again for more funding from county

September 12th, 2015 9:31 pm by J. H. Osborne

Sullivan sheriff sues again for more funding from county

BLOUNTVILLE -— Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson has again filed a lawsuit against the county in an effort to force the Sullivan County Commission to give his department a bigger piece of the budget pie.

This $6.5 million lawsuit was filed in Sullivan County Circuit Court on Wednesday, according to a statement issued by Anderson’s departmental spokesperson on Saturday morning.

Anderson’s last lawsuit against the county was settled in April 2013, after more than a year of negotiations, with an agreement that gave sheriff’s employees a 2 percent raise and said the county would spend $15,000 for work on an electronic gate inside the county jail.

The county commission later extended the raise to all county employees.

Anderson’s first lawsuit originally sought nearly $10 million — much of which was for additional personnel. Early on, the court ordered the sheriff to trim the request because under state law an officeholder is allowed to file suit and seek only something officially requested in a prior budget request. Anderson’s official budget request for that budget year had not included a request for those new employees. So that was stricken from the lawsuit.

It appears the focus of this lawsuit is again over funding for personnel.

Earlier this year, as a county budget was being developed for the current fiscal year (July 1, 2015 - June 30, 2016), it looked as if the county commission’s committee reviewing Anderson’s funding request was going to recommend a $1 million increase to his budget.

That group later reneged on making that recommendation after sherriff’s staff indicated the entire amount would be used to fund personnel.

The Sullivan County Commission ultimately approved a 27-cent increase in the county’s property tax rate, estimated to generate $9.4 million in new revenue (including school funding, which is shared with city school systems because city residents pay county property taxes).

The increase will help fund the county’s overall budget for this fiscal year, including an across-the-board pay raise for county workers that averages about 4 percent, according to the county’s budget office.

The pay raise, which included sheriff’s employees, totals about $950,000 in the county budget.

In the statement released Saturday announcing this new lawsuit, Anderson complained that of the $9.4 million in new revenue generated by the tax increase, his department will receive “only ... $135,000.”

“That money will cover the cost of a mental health nurse as well as the cost of leasing a new camera system for the jail,” Anderson said in the prepared statement. “It does not come close to fixing the other major issues we are facing. We do not have enough officers to properly protect this community, but even worse, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to fill the vacant positions we currently have.”

Anderson said it is easy to understand that, given some of his officers qualify for government assistance based on their current pay.

“I took an oath to protect the citizens of this county, and I cannot properly do that with the amount of funding we currently have,” Anderson said in the statement.

“At this point we are dangerously understaffed in the jail as well as on patrol. You cannot operate with the bare minimum and not expect something bad to happen. For the past two years I have tried my best to get the county commission to realize that and work with me on a solution. they have failed to do so and sadly I feel I have no other choice but to file a lawsuit against the county.”

It would take nearly 19 cents on the county’s property tax rate to generate $6.5 million.

The current county budget includes $51.5 million for the county’s general fund. Of that amount: $9.83 million goes to the sheriff’s office and another nearly $8.69 million goes to the county jail operated by Anderson. Funding for the two combined equals about 36 percent of the general fund.

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