Some County Commission members are balking at a request from Sheriff Jim Hammond for a pay increase of over $20,000 for taking over supervision of the old workhouse facility at Silverdale.
The commission is to vote next Wednesday on a resolution raising his pay from $143,335 to $163,930, along with associated benefits of FICA and TCRS (state retirement).
Sheriff Hammond said in a Zoom meeting with commissioners on Wednesday that he is now spending most of his time dealing with the added duties caused by CoreCivic exiting in December.
The sheriff also announced that the jail that has been downtown since the early days of the county will be closed in December and all prisoners shifted to Silverdale. He said it was found that 70 percent of CoreCivic employees do not qualify to work for the Sheriff's Office, and he said sheriff employees need to be moved from the jail on Walnut Street to Silverdale.
Grand juries have long complained about problems at the current jail that opened in 1976, while calling for it to be closed.
Sheriff Hammond said after CoreCivic said in July that it was preparing to leave, he named a transition team to work on the takeover.
He said he discovered "a myriad of problems out there."
One of those was fire safety issues brought to the commission in one resolution on Wednesday.
Sheriff Hammond said of the takeover, "We have dealt with a lot of obstacles and there are a lot of obstacles to go."
He noted that closing the downtown jail and the move of the whole operation to Silverdale is requiring coordination with the courts as well as the clerk offices.
One of the tasks is setting up a new booking center at Silverdale in the former Fox Trot sector.
Sheriff Hammond said of the raise, "I feel very strongly that this is something the commission ought to have my back on."
Coty Wamp, special counsel to the sheriff, argued for the raise, saying that Knox County and Davidson County gave their sheriffs higher pay for workhouse takeovers.
She said Sheriff Hammond currently makes the mandatory minimum set out by the Legislature.
Commissioner Warren Mackey spoke in favor, saying, "Why is it that we always want to go to the minimum pay?"
Commissioner Tim Boyd said he did not agree with the argument that Hamilton County ought to follow the pattern of other of the Big 4 counties. He said, "They should be following the conservative lead of Hamilton County."
He noted that Sheriff Hammond was among constitutional officers who in July got a 3.5 increase from the state at a time when county employees got no increase due to COVID effects on the budget.
Commissioner Greg Martin said "the timing is bad" on the request, noting budget stresses due to the virus.
Commissioner Katherlyn Geter said, "This gives me pause as to why you would bring this to us at a time like this." She said the county was already having trouble keeping lower-paid workers due to pay issues.
Sheriff Hammond said he is still weak from a recent bout with COVID in which he spent some time in the hospital. But he said he is "feeling stronger every day."
He said his wife Jeanie also got COVID and is in the hospital, but hopes to be released soon.
Sheriff Hammond is not planning to run for re-election in the 2022 races.