Sheriff Robert F. Arnold expects to spend nearly $1 million in overtime pay next fiscal year in lieu of additional officers.
Sheriff Robert Arnold speaks to members of the Rutherford County Commission during a committee meeting Nov. 1, 2011, at the County Courthouse. (TMP/File Photo
“We’re short staffed in a lot of ways,” Arnold told the Budget and Finance Committee last week. “I can’t get the commission to give me another body, but I can get some overtime.”
Arnold attended the meeting to discuss the upcoming budget, which totals more than $19 million. An increase of more than $700,000 from last year including additional funds that were later appropriated when the Sheriff's Office sought necessities such as gasoline to get through the year.
The Sheriff’s Office budgeted low last fiscal year on gasoline believing prices would drop. However, prices remained high, causing a shortage of funds and last-minute scrounging on the part of Arnold and the Rutherford County Commission.
Arnold told the committee his budget increased, in part, because his plan last year backfired, and he wants to be prepared.
Commissioner Steve Sandlin (Dist. 9) questioned the department’s increased overtime pay request, which is expected to cost approximately $800,000.
“Sheriff, your predecessor started out when I started out around 1990. The overtime line item was around $30,000,” Sandlin said. “It has increased and increased. In 2010, it was over a half million dollars, now we’re looking at $800,000 in the overtime line item.”
Arnold told the committee part of the increase in overtime pay is School Resource Officers who work events for schools and a lack of officers to handle increased crime.
“We haven’t had a blue body given to us for patrol in probably five years, but yet crime has increased and I’m trying to keep up,” Arnold said.
Sandlin responded saying, “I don’t see a request for people.”
Arnold told the committee requesting additional officers “would have went over like a lead balloon” when members saw how much it would cost to do so.
“If I came to you and said, ‘Hey I also need five patrol officers’ that’s another half million dollars and then I need vehicles and all the different things for it. That leads to another $2.5 million or $3 million dollars,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office budget is the largest of any department under the General Fund. Of the total department budget, salaries make up 83 percent of funding while operations and equipment are approximately 17 percent.
“I’ve been told many times, we know you need it, but we can’t fund it right now,” Arnold said.
Arnold also told the committee he has a plan that may alleviate some overtime expenses.
“Right now, we all work four 10-hour shifts on the patrol side," he said. "We’re going to go to 12-hour shifts so maybe that will help us. Hopefully, it will add manpower to the street and cut some of this overtime.”
Deputy Chief Virgil Gammon addressed members of the committee from his seat in the audience, explaining overtime pay has increased from 1990 because the number of prisoners in Rutherford County facilities has grown exponentially.
“We had approximately 67 prisoners at that time. We’ve got upwards of 900 now,” Gammon said.
Sandlin asked Mayor Ernest Burgess about his assessment of overtime pay and adding officers to the budget.
“I haven’t analyzed how many people he would need to relieve his overtime. You’re going to have some amount of overtime, period,” Burgess said.
Commissioner Doug Shafer (Dist. 1) argued paying overtime is cheaper than hiring officers because there are no additional benefits to pay.
The Budget and Finance Committee approved the Sheriff’s Office budget as recommended by Burgess.