Hawkins Sheriff requesting employee raises, eight patrol cars

On the second day of the county’s budget hearings, Sheriff Ronnie Lawson requested a raise for his employees as well as eight new patrol cars.

On Wednesday, the Hawkins Co. Commission’s budget committee finished its two-day budget hearing process after hearing requests from the Sheriff’s Department, Hawkins EMS, Hawkins Library System and the Juvenile Judge.

On their first day of budget hearings, the committee discussed the fact that the county general fund is projected to end this fiscal year on June 30 with an undesignated fund balance of $6.464 million, but the proposed 2020-21 budget is starting with a $494,997 deficit.

However, Sheriff Ronnie Lawson told the committee on Wednesday that his department still has several needs that could require a funding increase of around $673,000.

The county also needs a new ambulance, which could cost around $90,000.

The committee will meet again at 8:30 a.m. on May 27 to discuss and vote on the budgets and requests to determine which of them will make it into the second draft of the 2020-2021 budget.

7.5% raise for sheriff’s employees

Lawson also requested funding for a 7.5% across-the-board raise for all of his staff, which totals $343,481.

He noted that, within his request, the entire pay scale would be increased by 7.5% and employees can still advance on said scale.

“They haven’t had a raise in a couple years, and, just so you’ll know, I’ve lost 68 employees in the last 22 months,” Lawson added. “I’ve lost five in the last 90 days. On the corrections side, that costs me $78,278. Losing the experienced men that I lost on the Sheriff’s side, that was $189,813. Right there, that’s $268,000 (saved) if we’d maintained these employees.”

Commissioner Mark DeWitte questioned whether a 7.5% raise would be enough of an incentive to keep this from happening.

“We average about $38,000 per year,” Allen added. “They usually leave for a $50,000 job.”

“Take $38,000 and add 7.5% (which comes to $40,850), and they’re still probably going to jump to a $50,000 job if it’s available,” Commissioner Mark DeWitte said.

“We’re hoping that a little more money, the working conditions and the county’s support will help them stay,” Lawson replied. “I wish the county could afford more and could be comparable with the city (of Rogersville), but I know that’s not going to happen.”

Eight new patrol cars

Part of Lawson’s budget request will be used to purchase eight new fully-equipped patrol cars.

“We had that program started where we order some (vehicles) every year to keep from doing the big purchases at one time, but that got derailed,” he told the committee. “That’s why we’re trying to catch back up.”

He noted that no new vehicles were purchased during the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

“I don’t think we need to buy vehicles every four or five years—we need to buy them annually,” Finance Director Eric Buchanan told the committee. “This keeps the cost minimal, and you can expect it every year. I don’t know what that perfect number is to keep ahead of it annually, but, every time we say ‘no,’ we get hit with a bigger price tag and, then, we can’t afford that.”

Chief Deputy Tony Allen told the committee that there are currently around 10 patrol cars that each have over 250,000 miles.

“We keep pretty good maintenance on them, but it costs a fortune to keep them on the road when they get up that high,” he said. “Used to, the rule was 100,000 miles, but cars are better now, and you can get 200,000 miles out of a car pretty easily.”

He went on to add that a deputy puts roughly 300 miles on his or her car per shift. Each month, the Sheriff’s Department travels roughly 71,892 miles total.

Thus, Chairman John Metz suggested the committee start purchasing four cars per year.

Each fully-equipped car runs between $30,000 and $35,000 a piece.

Total requests for sheriff’s department

When you add the $343,481 cost of the 7.5% across-the-board staff raise with the $280,000 request for eight new patrol cars and the $50,000 request for jail vehicles to transport inmate work crews, Lawson’s total funding increase request for next year is roughly $673,000.

County needs new ambulance Hawkins Co. EMS Director Jason Murrell also presented his budget on Wednesday, which asks for an additional $90,000 to be used to replace one of the old ambulances.

This would bring the HCEMS funding from $60,000 to $150,000.

Murrell noted that HCEMS has been providing dedicated ambulance service to the county for 32 years. They currently provide five 24/7 Advanced Life Support (ALS) units, one ALS power truck and one ALS quick response unit.

Murrell brought up the EMS exploratory committee, which was formed to study the current EMS situation and recommend ways to better it.

This committee actually recommended that the county embark on a joint venture with HCEMS.

“I know several other (funding) issues arose since this time, but ambulance service to this county is just as important as any other issue,” Murrell told the committee. “Hawkins County EMS responds to approximately 9,000 calls every year, with approximately 7,500 transports. Of the transports, approximately 6,000 are transported to facilities outside of Hawkins County with an average of 46.3 miles round trip per transport…By replacing an older ambulance, the annual repair costs would decrease, allowing other critical equipment upgrades to be accomplished.”

Library system requesting 3% increase

Hawkins County Library System Director Yvonne Woytovich asked the committee for a 3% funding increase to be used for a 15-cent per hour raise for all library staff at Rogersville, Surgoinsville and Church Hill libraries.

This would bring the county’s funding from $100,000 to $103,000.

“With last year’s budget, I was able to get rid of some line items that weren’t really being used and eek out about a 15-cent raise for the employees,” she said. “But, all of our regular staff are still making less than $8.40 an hour, and our management staff is making about $13 an hour after that raise. Our state guidelines say that we should be making salaries comparable to city and county employees, and we’re a little bit below that.”

She went on to add that none of the system’s staff is full time, and the most any employee works is four days per week. They also do not accrue benefits other than some paid time off.

“They are very appreciative of that (raise),” she said.

Teresa Greer also addressed the committee on behalf of Surgoinsville Area Archives and Museum, which is a new 501©(3) organization that is establishing a county archive and history museum in the basement of the Surgoinsville Public Library.

They are requesting $2,000, which will be used to purchase computers and software to categorize historical archives.

“We feel that, if we don’t step up to the plate, preserve our heritage, and tell our story, it’s going to be gone,” she told the committee.

Changes in Juvenile Judge position not reflected in this budget

Though the issue of changing the juvenile judge position from part-time to full-time has been heavily discussed in recent months, no official changes to the position have been made. Thus, none were reflected in the first draft of the county’s budget.

“The big issue is that, if the juvenile judge position does become full-time, that would have to be addressed at a later date with a budget amendment,” Judge Daniel Boyd told the committee.