Cumberland County Sheriff Casey Cox made an initial request of six new road deputies for his department for the 2019-’20 fiscal year budget, but he changed the request to three deputies with some conditions.

Cox made the presentation at the county’s May 14 budget meeting. Cox said he would like for the employees to have the ability to sell back 40 hours of their accrued vacation time; $40,000 of overtime funds be added to the county jail budget; and $80,000 to the sheriff’s budget to help reduce excessive comp-time hours that have accumulated.

“This will allow for more deputies to be at work versus burning time. This cost is less than the original six-deputy request,” Cox wrote in a request letter.

He said the primary reason for requesting additional personnel is to provide better sheriff patrol deputy coverage throughout the county, reduce crime and decrease response times to emergency calls.

Cox said there has been a 28% population increase over the past 20 years, but no new patrol deputy positions have been funded since 1999.

“Obviously, the call volume has increased significantly within that 20 years. Last year the sheriff’s office responded to 40,170 calls of service. Putnam County sheriff’s office responded to 38,500 calls. The land coverage is much greater than most other county sheriff’s offices,” Cox wrote.

He said he recognizes the fiscal responsibility needed to properly oversee and fund the county, and that all departments request things from the county.

He said the new plan will allow the department to move forward with the growth of the county and save funding in several areas, including health insurance and benefits, patrol cars and other equipment.

Cox said his long-term goal is to have sub-zones in each of the county’s current three zones. 

“These zones are large at 227 square miles in each. The response time is expanded. The average response time is 13 min and 54 sec. It’s increased vehicle mileage and decreased presence of officer,” he said.

He said there are 10 counties in Tennessee that are smaller than just one of the three zones in Cumberland.

Cox said there are 55 total officers in the sheriff’s office to cover all of Cumberland County. Of those 55, 30 are assigned to the patrol division. Others include court, warrant service and School Resource Officers.

He said Putnam county has 78 officers and it’s smaller in area size. Putnam is also requesting additional deputies for the coming year due to the population increase there.

Cox supplied information showing Cumberland County population is 59,078, making it the 23rd largest county in the state, with 29,546 homes, 686 square miles and 1,100 miles of roadway, not including state highways or the interstate.

Putnam County is 403 square miles.

He said lack of patrol deputies in the county results in increased vehicle mileage, higher response times, minimal officer presence and patrol time, increased crime and increased liability.

“I understand everyone wants something. Will six deputies fix the problems? It may not be great. But it’s a way to spread presence and fix some of the problems. With the new proposal, I’ll take three deputies instead, allow the employees sell back their vacation time. That’s extra time we’ll have deputies on. Start a line item of overtime on patrol and jail to reduce comp time and that will help start rectifying problem. It’s a better way to spread officers and help the problem,” Cox said.

Rebecca Stone, 3rd District commissioner, suggested Cox work with Nathan Brock, county finance director, and get the numbers on the budget.

Cox said, “It’s $50,000 less plus the reduced cost of benefits. It’s a more fiscally sound and responsible way than to just throw people at it.”

Cox said he believes adding overtime to the plan will be more beneficial.

Charles Seiber, 4th District commissioner, asked, “How soon will we have to build another jail if we add six more deputies?”

Cox said, “That’s a good question, but another topic. With more people, there’s more funding and more headache. Will there be more people arrested? I hope so. The problem is we have a huge drug problem in this county.”

Nancy Hyder, 2nd District commissioner, said, “We could try it for a year and see how it goes.”

The committee agreed by consensus to revisit the topic during the personnel request time.

The regular budget for the sheriff’s office was approved by consensus at $3,435,122; courtroom security at $186,053; special patrols school resource officers at $454,456; drug enforcement at $40,734; county jail at $4,270,517; juvenile services at $132,854; and reserve deputies at $28,212.

Although approved by consensus, those budgets are subject to final approval by the budget committee and county commission. The budgets are only tentatively approved at this point.

Five new patrol vehicles vehicles were also approved as part of the annual vehicle replacement program at $175,000.

Personnel for all departments will be discussed in a future meeting near the end of the budget process later this month.

Gary Nelson may be reached at gnelson@crossville-chronicle.com

Crossville Chronicle senior staff writer