The Rutherford County Sheriff's Office and jail budgets are set to increase again in fiscal 2016, jumping to $23.2 million and $16.1 million respectively, including more than $900,000 for overtime in the sheriff's office alone.
Rutherford County commissioners approved only two full-time and four part-time dispatch positions for the sheriff's office for the coming fiscal year, even though he requested several more patrol positions. Commissioners also OK'd $1 million for new vehicles in an effort to keep the sheriff's office fleet from deteriorating but cut out requests for more vehicles and equipment by eliminating new patrol positions.
The sheriff's office budget was only $17.7 million in fiscal 2011, when Sheriff Robert Arnold took office, and the jail budget was set at $12.6 million five fiscal years ago.
When Arnold defeated longtime Sheriff Truman Jones in 2010, he promised to be transparent and fiscally responsible, yet his budgets have increased almost annually, nearly $9 million in total.
Arnold said the sheriff's office has consistently accepted Mayor Ernest Burgess's recommended budgets, which received commission approval. In one recent year, commissioners approved the hiring of 13 more school resource officers.
Most of the spending increases can be attributed to employee salaries and benefits, in addition to the sheriff's office taking over information and technology services, according to the sheriff's office.
"I've been very successful in getting pay raises for my employees," Arnold said.
The sheriff is budgeting another $150,800 in uniforms for the coming year after spending $135,710 in 2014 and $15,800 in 2015 on uniforms. Communications equipment costs are increasing to $125,000 next year from $55,000 this year, and the office will spend another $150,000 on data processing equipment.
These budget increases come at a time Arnold and his administration are being investigated by the FBI, TBI and state Comptroller's Office in a probe of potential criminal wrongdoing.
Because of those, Arnold's requests did not fare well in a joint meeting of the commission's Public Safety and Budget and Finance committees. Some commissioners have said they lost trust in Arnold. Consequently, only dispatch positions were funded for the coming fiscal year.
TBI and the state Comptroller's Office have been investigating Arnold's administration since early April following revelations Arnold, his family and Chief Administrative Deputy Joe Russell are connected to a Marietta, Ga.,-based company, JailCigs, which was selling e-cigarettes to county jail inmates at $12.95 a pop without a County Commission-approved contract.
Arnold, a Republican who won election to a second term last August, lists JailCigs as an investment and source of income on a financial disclosure form filed with the Tennessee Ethics Commission in January. He also lists his wife, Megan, as holding investments in JailCigs on the document, the signing of which was witnessed by Chief Deputy Randy Garrett, second in command at the office.
JailCigs, which has since been suspended from the county jail, is owned by Arnold's uncle and aunt, John and Judy Vanderveer, and Russell, who was Arnold's campaign chairman and financial chief at the sheriff's office, Georgia state documents show. They also own a company called JailSnacks.
Russell was also Arnold's next-door neighbor until he put his Osborne Lane house on the market this week as an owner/agent with Exit Realty.
The sheriff, who has declined comment on the most part during the investigation, also signed and amended other contracts without County Commission approval or the knowledge of top county officials, a violation of the county's purchasing process and a possible misdemeanor.
The sheriff's office spent $1.1 million on overtime in fiscal 2015, up from 959,951 in 2014, and budgeted $915,000 for fiscal 2016.
Overtime spending this year included $135,825 for narcotics detectives, $17,089 of which went to Capt. Jason Mathis. The county school system also paid $133,752 in overtime to school resource officers, and another $98,450 for overtime came out of the Governor's Highway Safety fund.
From November to March, narcotics detectives worked a major case, which was one reason the overtime budget was nearly exhausted in the general fund, according to Finance Director Lisa Nolen.
Ten detectives in the Narcotics Division worked on long-term investigations that required overtime, some of which was reimbursed by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, sheriff's office spokeswoman Lisa Marchesoni said.
Much of that culminated in recent warrants for the arrest of 22 people indicted in a drug trafficking ring in Middle Tennessee, according to Marchesoni.
The school system funds pay or SROs and deputies to provide extra security at school events such as football and basketball games, graduations, proms and other school-related activities.
"Previously, each school paid the officers directly for their services. The Department of Labor looks at the Board of Education and county (highway too) as one employer. So to avoid problems with overtime for the officers, we pay them for school events through payroll, then bill the Board of education for the officers' time. The board of education then charges the individual schools," Nolen said.
The funds from the Governor's Highway Safety Office are part of a 100 percent federal grant used to pay deputies for alcohol enforcement.