Citizens for Better Government

 

Blount County Tennessee

 

No ‘straight talk’ from the Mayor on Sheriff’s vehicles

 

In a recent letter to the editor of a local paper, Mayor Cunningham claimed to set the record straight on the Sheriff’s vehicles. The Mayor did not set the record straight. He simply avoided the question and went on to mislead the reader.

 

Our question was a simple one. Table 21 of the state audited county financial report for the year ended June 2006 shows that the Sheriff had the following stock of vehicles:

  • Cars – 195
  • Sport Utility Vehicles – 39
  • Trucks – 14
  • Vans – 5
  • Motorcycles – 10

This is a total of 263 vehicles. In mid-January, the Sheriff purchased another 24 cars for approximately $500,000 before the addition of police equipment. This brings the current total of Sheriff’s vehicles to 287.

 

What makes this number especially interesting is that Table 19 of the audit report shows that the Sheriff’s department employs a total of 268 people. Of that number 98 work in the jail and should have no need for a vehicle. There are also 17 clerical employees and 7 court security officers included in these numbers. In short, there cannot be more than 160 people in the Sheriff’s department who can possibly warrant the full time use of a vehicle. This estimate is generous. The Sullivan county police department, which serves the same population as our Sheriff when the city populations are deducted, gets the job done with just 130 vehicles. In addition, Sullivan county must provide back-up for more than twice the city population. By the way, the audit report shows that as recently as 2002, the Sheriff’s department got along just fine with 132 vehicles. Our county population has grown by 6.9% since 2002. Why did the Sheriff need to more than double the number of vehicles he uses, at a cost of more than $4.5 million of taxpayer money.

 

Why does the Sheriff need 287 vehicles when he doesn’t have more than 160 people who could possibly use one? That was the question we asked at the January Commission meeting. That was the question the Mayor did not answer.

 

Instead, the Mayor chose to try to mislead the readers into thinking that the Sheriff vehicles are not purchased with taxpayer money. He says that the vehicles are purchased with $2 million per year in money paid by the Federal government to the county to house Federal prisoners. The Mayor fails to mention that this arrangement is a big loser for the county taxpayers. Table 20 of the state audit report puts the cost of housing a Federal prisoner at $55 per day. The county only collects $45 per from the Federal government. We house about 140 Federal prisoners. Bottom line – the county loses more than $500,000 per year on the Federal prisoner arrangement. In fact, by the Sheriff’s own estimates the Federal prisoner arrangement has been losing money since at least 2003. It has provided no net money for vehicles at all. And when the Mayor says ” were it not for housing federal prisoners, there would have to be additional monies allocated in the budget process with a commensurate increase in the tax rate in order to fund vehicles”, he not only did not answer our question, he used it to further mislead the taxpayers. The county deserves better.

 

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