Memo to Commissions

Memo from J. Cunningham to all Commissioners, dated January 26, 2007

At the last Commission Meeting, Commissioner Walker requested that my office prepare comparison figures of salaries of the Blount County Sheriff's Office with law enforcement salaries for Maryville and Alcoa. I was advised that you wanted "total dollar" figures which we will call "gross wages". In fairness, I have also included a comparison to the Cities of budgeted salaries. In addition, at least 15 of you have requested, from either me or personnel in accounting, additional figures relative to and in response to information disseminated about earnings at the Blount County Sheriff's Office. Rather than address each of these requests piece meal, I will try to answer your questions in this memo. We have spent an inordinate amount of time researching this in order to make sure that our information is accurate right down to the penny. I am confident that the following provides the information you requested.

In order to help you sift through the information, I have attached hereto separate exhibits in your packet. One is a listing which reflects Blount County full time employees and their earnings as of January 18, 2006. This list not only is inclusive of employees of the Blount County Sheriff's Department, but includes all other County employees as well. You will note that an annual salary is listed, together with last year gross figures which generally are in excess of the annual salary figure. This represents exact dollar amounts actually paid to the employee, or gross wages. Also, enclosed as an additional exhibit to this letter is a document which you requested reflecting adjustments in the Sheriff's Department for the past seven (7) years. Those are self-explanatory and will include items such as in-service payments as well as supplements and salary adjustments or bonuses. I have also enclosed as an additional exhibit a document provided to my personnel from the Sheriff's accounting department reflecting budgeted salary figures.

Another request that you made of me was for an organizational chart relative to the Sheriff's Department. I have included that. You requested that I provide figures relative to employee growth at the Blount County Sheriff's Department. That exhibit is attached as well and reflects the employment both full time and part time from 2000 to the present level in 2006. Lastly, for comparison, I have enclosed herewith a base salary schedule from the City of Alcoa. I have also enclosed herewith a base salary schedule from the City of Maryville, together with a gross schedule from the City of Maryville. So you have base and gross figures from all three entities.

You requested what the Sheriff's total budget figure allocations were for the years from 2000 to present. They are as follows:
2000 $9,931,881
2001 11,730,397
2002 12,473,662
2003 13,097,755
2004 15,081,194
2005 15,901,161
2006 16,232,816

Next, you requested that I provide to you information relative to what you termed as "bonuses" in the Sheriff's Department. That information is in one of the above mentioned enclosures. These payments are listed in the Sheriff's internal budget as "salary adjustments," and I am advised that they were tendered to top salaried personnel who are not eligible for over-time pay. I certainly will not attempt to go into these matters because it is discretionary with the Sheriff as to how and to whom they are paid. Additionally, as I explained to you, the total figures reflect not only salary adjustments or bonuses, but supplements, over-time, longevity pay and all other dollars actually paid through our payroll.

It has been requested that I provide to you for the last three years the average number of vacancies in the Sheriff's Department. It is a bit difficult to ascertain that with certainty, but as of last week, I understand there were 31 vacancies averaged between 20 and 30.

You further requested that my department tabulate the amount of raises which could be given people whom you indicated the Sheriff has categorized as "living on the edge of poverty level" if he simply did not fill 20 of these vacancies and requested transfers from those budgeted salaries be allotted among the remainder of his personnel on the low end of the spectrum. David Bennett advises this would create between $475,000 and $500,000.00 in monies that could be transferred to salaries on the lower end. For instance, the increase that could be given from the Captain level down through the lower spectrum would be about $3,500.00, give or take.

Further you requested that I determine the number of vehicles in the Sheriff's inventory, together with the total number of employees since 2000. The exhibit which I have provided shows that the total number of full time employees and part-time employees.

The total number of inventoried vehicles is over 250. However, in fairness, all of these vehicles are not cruisers or cars. Some are surplus vehicles which the Sheriff has been given by the National Guard. There are four-wheelers which have been donated. There is a horse trailer which was donated. There are boats and jet skis, which have been donated. There are bicycles. There are wrecks held for salvage parts. The inventory figures do not give an accurate picture. Additionally, the Sheriff has been kind enough over the years to provide vehicles to other departments in order to facilitate their missions. Accordingly, the number of vehicles when all of this is factored in certainly is not what it appears to be. Here again, simple "shot gunning" of total figures is unfair.

One request was relative to the population of Blount County. At this time that figure approximates 115,535 people. You requested the population figure in the year 2000 and that approximated 100,000. At present the City of Maryville's population is 25,851 and the City of Alcoa's population is 8,388. In answer to request as to whether the Blount County Sheriff's Office services the City of Maryville and the City of Alcoa's law enforcement needs, I think it is fair to state that each City has prime responsibility for law enforcement within is corporate bounds. There are times when intergovernmental cooperation is needed, but basically the Cities take care of the Cities and the County takes care of the County relative to law enforcement. Accordingly, in answer to your request, the Sheriff's prime responsibility relative to population would be 115,535, less Maryville's 25,851 and less Alcoa's 8,388 for a total of 81,296. Again remember though, that these departments highly buttress and support each other.

You also requested that I address the issue of insurance costs. It does appear that insurance costs will be going up about 15%. Based on that figure, if the charge for dependant insurance is $100.00, then that would mean that on a monthly basis the increase to the Blount County employee would be $15. If, for instance, however, wage increases were given of 5% on a $24,000.00 salary that would amount to $100.00 per month, so the net gain would be about $85.00 in pocket money to the employee. Here, again, based on statements that have been made, it would appear that we can not compare apples to oranges. It was somewhat misleading because some folks felt that the wage increase, if it were given in the amount of 5%, would be more than wiped out by the insurance increase. As you can see, this is not so. None of us wants insurance increases but increases in insurance is a fact of life.

After talking with my staff and with a number of you, you told me to do the agency comparisons requested based again on a total gross wage. This is one yard stick for comparison purposes. It gives highly skewed comparisons obviously. There are other comparisons such as comparing budgeted salaries. The concern you expressed was what kind of "grocery money" was coming to each of the employees on an annual basis. Accordingly, in order to determine the "grocery money," as one of you termed it, you indicated that the total gross wage reflected each and every dollar tendered to each and every employee. These figures are accurate. You or anyone else may review them with my payroll person at any time. I did do a spread sheet as one of you instructed me. Also, we have prepared a spread sheet based on budgeted salary comparison. The spread sheets are very different, as you will note, because the first spread sheet is drastically skewed by the simple reason that factored into the figures are supplements, over-time (both voluntary and required), bonuses, in-service pay, etc. It is attached also. These are attached as the final pages of this memo before any exhibits.

Also, in answer to your requests, the benefits package (i.e. insurance, retirement, etc.) add about 25% value in the above salary. So if a salary was $30,000, the benefits would be about $7,500 in addition to the employee. Further, some employees, in answer to your question, are allotted vehicles for work purposes and to drive to and from work. Gasoline is provided at no cost to the employee and this benefit of vehicle and gasoline is not taxable to the employee. Certainly that is an added value as well and is deserved in my opinion.

A number of you have spoken with me about the time line relative to the driving track issue. In answer to your questions, I think the time line is of no consequence, and we are about to embark on somewhat of a witch hunt if we are not careful. I am very acquainted with how drug funds are awarded to different law enforcement agencies through my service as the United States Attorney. Generally speaking, on a shared basis, those monies go back into the law enforcement agency which is responsible for creating the monies through drug seizures and so forth. It puts funds back to the agency performing the good drug enforcement work. It not only is a reward back to that agency, but it is also intended to be used by the agency for furtherance of its drug enforcement mission.
Certainly that is the case here in Blount County. The drug fund usage is defined between rather narrow parameters, but it must be remembered that total discretion is given to the law enforcement agency to which it is awarded as to how it is used. The reason behind this, of course, is to keep other entities within a County or State from attempting to use the drug fund money for purposes other than the war on drugs. Additionally, you should be advised that in many jurisdictions that the law enforcement agency chooses to simply deposit drug fund monies in a separate fund retained within the department as opposed to depositing those funds with the County Trustee or other treasurer of a municipality and so forth. Sheriff Berrong has elected to put those monies with our County Trustee. The reasoning behind that was so there would be openness relative to their expenditure. Because those monies were deposited with the Trustee, the Sheriff had to ask for the transfer back out from the Commission. At that time, it seemed everyone and his brother wanted to get in the act and advise the Sheriff on expenditures of those funds. Again, and I can not emphasize strongly enough, that the usage of those funds is solely at the discretion of the law enforcement agency, subject to review by either the Federal or State government as the case may be. Had the Commission refused the transfer, as some voted to do, the Sheriff simply could have gone to the Trustee and had the funds withdrawn and placed in the separate account as many other law enforcement officials already have seen fit to do. You may recall Sheriff Hutchison did the same thing in Knox County some number of years ago. Fortunately, our Sheriff has chosen to handle the funds in the manner that I have already described relative to deposits. I think the question is rather moot as to when the track was built, when purchase orders were done, or even whether or not a driving track was needed. Again, all of this is totally within the discretion if the law enforcement official. Possibly, some of you may feel that the cart was put in front of the horse and that may be the case. However, again, based on the way drug funds are tendered back to the performing agency, our Sheriff could have chosen to have completely by-passed the Trustee and thereby by-passed the Commission relative to their expenditures. We are wasting a lot of time on this issue because the State and Federal governments have designed it, so we do not have any say so or authority relative to the matter. I hope this point is clear because I feel we have really worn the issue out, and it has been misinterpreted, and a lot of wrong information has been disseminated.

Also, comment was made at the last Commission meeting relative to expenditures on a new mobile command unit. Now there is discussion on that. This mobile command unit was obtained through a Federal grant. All of us in Government should attempt to obtain as much grant money as we can because that simply represents us obtaining some of our tax dollars back from Washington or Nashville. I think all of us would be well advised to weigh carefully people and/or groups who have a tendency to "shoot from the hip" and, either through ignorance or design, misrepresent the facts. This mobile command unit was not purchased with monies from any Blount County Governmental budget. I was angered because, as with the erroneous budget figures spun out some time ago relative to my departments, it was a completely false representation and a cheap shot.

You further requested for me to find out if the County is making money on the housing of Federal prisoners. I do not have that assessment for you. I am advised by Sheriff Berrong that it does make money for the County, and I have no reason to doubt that. I will discuss this matter further with David Bennett when he gets back in the office.

Lastly, you requested my assessment of the quality of law enforcement in the County. I think we have a very gifted Sheriff and our officers serve this County extremely well. Their professionalism, their response time and the manner in which they perform their duties are exemplary. Certainly, it is on a par, if not better, than any enforcement agency in the State. I am told our crime rate is down. I will support all reasonable means of giving all county personnel deserved raises as well as Sheriff Department employees. As a matter of fact, a number of the other offices are looking at the possibility of, when a position is lost through attrition, to reallocating that salary to the remaining personnel if the remaining personnel indicates that they are willing to take up the slack and work load that the position filled.

In conclusion, I am providing this information to you in this format rather than piece meal because I have had so many requests from you individually. It has been, is and will continue to be my policy to be completely open relative to finances of County Government and relative to its policies. I will not engage in a shell game, nor will I be accused of playing the game of smoke and mirrors. It is so easy to be open and not to distort or confuse relative to figures. I will earnestly try, as I have done here, to give you all information requested. As the exhibits reflect, the situation is multi-faceted. My concern remains only for the welfare of all Blount Countians, for the fair treatment of our employees and to do as much as I can to ensure that everyone has a piece of the American dream and is able to enjoy a fair and good standard of living. I appreciate the wonderful kind of law enforcement that we have in this County, and I sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, appreciate those people in the lower paid ranks who put their lives on the line for our safety and security on a 24 hour basis, 7 days a week, 365 days a year as well as their supervisors all the way up the chain of command.

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