Sheriff’s Department talks cars, retirement during Budget Committee meeting

Published 8:13 am Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Members of Carter County’s Budget Committee met Monday evening to discuss retirement opportunities for county deputies as well as giving an update on the state of the sheriff’s department and its fleet.

Chief Deputy James Parrish said the department’s plan is to replace the older vehicles in their fleet within a three-year plan.

“We were at a 150,000 mile average [on our vehicles] roughly five years ago,” Parrish said. “We replaced all our front-line vehicles. The average is now 53,000 miles.”

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The age of the fleet is important, he said, because the amount of mileage each vehicle racks up daily ages the fleet rapidly.

“We will be requesting $47,000 for a new jail transport,” he said. “We do not want the vehicle to wear out.”

This way, he said, they can have two vehicles alternating the job, further reducing the overall mileage.

The department’s plan, he said, will be to lease out eight new vehicles this year, then four more next year, and then four more the following year. This method, he said, will fully phase out the older vehicles from the rotation.

“It will make the best transport fleet in East Tennessee,” Parrish said.

The discussion did not lead to a vote just yet, however. Parrish said he just wanted to let the Budget Committee know this was going to be a request for October’s meeting.

Parrish also said a new state law allows deputies to retire after 25 years of service at the age of 55. Parrish said while this is a positive law, he said he wanted to lower that requirement even further, as some officers are past the 30-year mark without the ability to retire with insurance.

“We are asking the county to consider a reduction in the age requirement from 55 to 52,” he said.

In addition, he said he wanted the county to lower the service requirement from 25 to 20 years.

This way, he said, those who have been working for almost 30 years, like Michael Fraley, can receive the retirement they deserve rather than have to continue to wait several more years.

When asked about the cost, Parrish said the first few years would actually be a cost savings.

“It would be about $1,152 per employee,” he said.

He said about seven officers are currently eligible to retire if the motion passes.

Commissioner Ronnie Trivett said such a decision should first go to Financial Management, as it concerns changes to the employee handbook, and the motion passed unanimously.

Commissioners also approved an increase in the minimum threshold in the unassigned fund balance. In previous years, county policy dictated the budget must set aside 20 percent of annual expenses into the unassigned fund balance, equating to around $3 million.

Finance Director Brad Burke reported there was about $9 million in the fund as of now, and after a discussion as part of their annual review process, the committee approved an increase in that percentage from 20 percent to 25 percent, raising the number to a little over $4 million.