Council approves budget second reading despite sheriff department spending objection from Bracewell

LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — Can local law enforcement do more with less? That was the topic of discussion during Monday night’s second reading of the 2022-23 Metro Budget.

During open discussion of the budget, first term council member Robert Bracewell suggested that Metro Moore County employs too many law enforcement officers. He also posited that some Metro Moore Sheriff’s Department employees receive nearly $30,000 dollars over and above their base pay.

“It may say $50,000 or similar on the books but when you factor in the $20,000 for insurance and another $8,500 for a vehicle, it’s closer to $80,000 before any retention pay,” Bracewell explained to the Council.

All 43 County employees receive medical insurance plans through the State of Tennessee. Metro Moore covers 80 percent of that premium and the employee pays 20 percent of that premium.

“Most of these employees are on the top tier plan,” Bracewell stated. “If all the county employees were limited to the lowest tier plan, then that would be a savings to the county of $125,222.40. If they were on the mid tier plan that savings would drop to $35,000. That’s either one penny or three pennies.”

Based on Bracewell calculations, that would save a Moore County homeowner with a home appraised at $100,000 between $2.50 and $7.50 per year.

Bracewell also stated that Moore County employs too many officers for its crime rate based on a comparison of the surrounding counties.

According to a handout he presented at the meeting, Metro Moore employs 17 officers. This included 10 patrol officers, two SRO officers, two investigators, a flex position, Captain Shane Taylor (who also sits on the Metro Council), and Sheriff Tyler Hatfield. With a population of 6,644, that means that Metro employees 2.6 officers for every 1,000 citizens.

This compares to 2.4 officers per thousand for Franklin County, 1.9 for Coffee County and Lincoln County, and 1.5 for Bedford County, according to Bracewell’s handout.

His worksheet also stated that Moore County’s crime rate per capital is .019. According to Bracewell, Moore County had 124 total crimes according to the latest data from 2021, not including traffic tickets. Fifty four of those were drug or narcotic violations, and 42 of those were done on the roadway and required no additional investigation, according to Bracewell.

“We have a lower crime rate and more officers per capita,” Bracewell told the Council. “From a budgetary standpoint, it appears we are employing too many law enforcement officers when compared to the surrounding counties.”

Sheriff Hatfield addressed Bracewell’s concerns directly in the meeting.

“The difference between us and Coffee County or Franklin County is that they have several municipalities that work within each county,” said Hatfield. “If something major kicks off, in say, Franklin County then Decherd, Estill Springs, Sewanee, and Cowan can all help. My question is, who do we have?”

Sheriff Hatfield went on to explain that Metro Moore staffs two deputies from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and two deputies that work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. plus one additional person who works from noon to midnight on either side of those shifts each 24 hours. In addition to administrative staff, two investigators are on call.

“That’s the difference between every other county and us,” Sherif Hatfield said. “In between that, we’re transporting inmates back-and-forth to court, serving papers, and doing everything that the other counties do with much larger staffs.”

Sheriff Hatfield stated that it takes a minimum of 10 officers to cover the seven 24/7 shifts inside Moore County. Sheriff Hatfield also stated that there is a national average of recommended officers per 1,000 citizens and that is 2.4. Moore County currently employs 2.6 per 1,000.

“We haven’t added staffing since I took office,” Sheriff Hatfield concluded. “We’ve been running these exact staffing numbers since at least 2018, if not longer. We’re not adding staff, just maintaining.”

After the meeting, Sheriff Hatfield also confirmed with The Times that he asked for no additional funding in the 2023-24 budget.

Asking for further discussion and hearing none, Metro Chair Amy Cashion called for a roll call vote and the second reading of the fiscal 2023-24 budget passed by a 13-1 margin.

Arvis Bobo, Gerald Burnett, Douglas Carson, Amy Cashion, Marty Cashion, Bradley Dye, Dexter Golden, Greg Guinn, Jimmy Hammond, Houston Lindsay, Sunny Rae Moorehead, John Taylor, and Shane Taylor voted in favor of the second reading. Robert Bracewell voted against the second reading. Peggy Sue Blackburn was absent from the meeting.

There was no public comment for or against the budget in a public hearing held just prior to the regular meeting.

The Council will meet in Special Session next Monday, June 26 at 6:30 p.m. to hear the third and final reading of the 2023-24 Metro Budget. •

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