Panel approves $22.46 million sheriff’s budget

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The Rutherford County budget committee expected headaches from the sheriff’s budget but wound up approving a $22.46 million plan with little, if any, upheaval last week.

In a voice vote, county commissioners OK’d the sheriff’s office budget recommended by County Mayor Ernest Burgess after he reduced Sheriff Robert Arnold’s salary request by $124,000 then added about $30,000 to increase pay for deputies who deliver civil and criminal warrants, a public information officer and to shift a lieutenant to captain.

The spending plan, which must be approved by June 30 by the full commission, is lower than the current year’s budget and maintains the existing pay plan but is $5 million more than three years ago.

County Commissioner Will Jordan told the group he’d heard all sorts of “nightmares” about the sheriff’s proposed budget but was glad to see it kept spending under control.

The plan does include $100,000 to purchase 15 to 20 new vehicles, including Dodges, Tauruses and Explorers, in the second year of a vehicle replacement plan, according to Arnold.

The sheriff explained that all certified officers take home the vehicles they drive, and some of them stay in their zone until the end of their shift, going straight home instead of returning to the sheriff’s office. Using laptop computers, they can file reports, he said.

The budget plan also contains $150,800 for new uniforms, causing Commissioner Steve Sandlin to say, “I’m really confused on uniforms.”

He pointed toward about 15 sheriff’s personnel in the committee room who were wearing different types of uniforms.

Arnold explained that the department has four classes of uniforms, black ones that are dressier and more expensive, costing $80 each for pants and shirts, and green ones that are worn primarily by deputies in the field that are less expensive, about $20 each for pants and shirt.

The sheriff sought increases in the mayor’s recommended budget, including $100,000 more to activate rocket modems for communications. An AT&T contract dealing with circuits is set to expire and renewing it to handle the modems is expected to be part of a $400,000 line item in the budget.

Commissioners accepted recommendations by the mayor to cut proposed expenses for in-service training and communications equipment.

“If you fund it all now, you have to put that penny on the tax rate,” Jordan said, adding when the funds are needed the sheriff should come back to the budget committee for an amendment.

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