SULLIVAN COUNTY., Tenn. - The settlement between Sullivan County and its Sheriff's Office could lead to a property tax increase in the county.
Sheriff Wayne Anderson sued the county, claiming his department was underfunded in 2015. The settlement gives all Sullivan County Sheriff's Office employees a five percent pay raise and it adds 18 positions to the office. It also gives Sheriff Anderson a $150,00 bonus pool to use at his discretion and requires the county to cover Anderson's legal fees. In return, Anderson agreed not to challenge next year's funding plan.
Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable says finding the funding for the 2017-2018 fiscal year is the biggest obstacle this settlement presents.
"There's no fluff in the Sullivan County budget," Mayor Venable says.
The County Commission passed a continuing budget resolution on Monday, which allows the government to continue to operate on last year's levels past the June 30 deadline. But the pressure is still mounting on the commission to find $2 million dollars in next year's budget for the agreed upon improvements to the sheriff's office.
"We were not meeting the mandate set out by law that regulates the office of Sheriff," Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson says.
Since the lawsuit was filed in 2015, the commission has continued to increase funding for public safety.
"Over the last two years, we've actually made improvements to the sheriff's office, well in excess of $2 million dollars," Mayor Venable says.
As a result of those funding increases and the settlement, the department now has 32 new positions and the money to fill them.
"We are required to try and attract people to come here, work, and retain our officers that have been here for a number of years," Sheriff Anderson says. "I think this goes a long way towards helping us achieve that."
But the increases to public safety could come out of taxpayers' pockets.
"In the past, you've been able to fund it out of a regular tax rate, but I don't see that happening this year," Mayor Venable says.
The budget committee hasn't considered the new sheriff's mandates yet, but Mayor Venable says property taxes could be on the rise because a one cent increase turns into $354,000 in revenue for the county.
"Once we get the bottom line on this, if you divide that number by $354,000, and that's going to give you the approximate number of pennies that we would have to increase the tax rate," he says.
The committee will first look at any increases in revenue from this year, then it will consider cuts to other county departments before considering a tax hike as a last resort.
"I'd like to have it done by the end of July and I think we will," Venable says.
This isn't the first time the Sheriff has sued the county. Back in 2012, he filed a similar lawsuit that resulted in a 2% raise for his employees.
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