Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall, directing sharp words toward Mayor Karl Dean’s administration and questioning its proposed budget, said Wednesday he’s unsatisfied with the level of funding in his department –– especially during a time of a potential property tax increase.
“As we sit here today, we can barely survive on the budget as we live today in our institutions and the services we provide,” Hall told the Metro Council at ongoing budget hearings Wednesday.
“We’re at a point where we don’t believe it is in the internal equity of Metro government [to reduce the sheriff’s office’s budget] when we’re raising over $100 million in tax increases,” he said. “This isn’t reasonable for the sheriff’s office. That’s my position.”
Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed budget –– heading to the council for a final vote June 19 –– would decrease the sheriff’s office $75 million budget by $200,000. But according to Hall, his department has seen reductions five years in a row. The net result of this “pattern,” he said, has been the elimination of 78 positions over that span.
“It is a concern of mine, it is a frustration of mine,” Hall said. “But I do not want anyone here nor the administration to believe or worry that I’m opposed to their budget. I am concerned about the way it is distributed.”
Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling, approached by The City Paper afterwards about Hall’s remarks, deferred comments to those he made during the hearing. This included a touchy exchange with Hall.
Riebeling, who called Hall a “great sheriff,” said departments such as Metro Public Works have seen far greater reductions in recent years than $200,000. “In perspective, remember, it is a very insignificant cut.”
Hall, however, took exception with the way Riebeling initiated Metro’s budget process in January by asking all departments to submit how they would implement 2 percent cuts. Most department heads went ahead and also submitted requests for budget increases, but apparently not Hall.
“If he didn’t submit any request for improvements, then his is the only department in the government that didn’t submit requests for improvements,” Riebeling said, adding that he only heard a few days ago that Hall had issues with the budget.
“I don’t know where you heard it,” Hall said. “I wasn’t in town.”
“Did I say something that was wrong?” a visibly irritated Riebeling asked.
“Yes, several things,” Hall fired back.
Hall, whom many perceive holds higher political aspirations, perhaps a future mayoral run, came to the council Wednesday clearly seeking to send a message.
He called his department’s budget situation “dangerous,” adding that reductions would hit his office’s “community services” the most. This includes storm water drainage work with the Metro Water department, he said, as well as assisting Metro Public Works with pickup duties.
Dean, who has labeled public safety a top priority, has sought to sell his proposed 53-cent property tax increase in part by highlighting investments in the Metro Nashville Police Department, which would get a $6.7 million increase over the current fiscal year. Dean’s budget includes funding to staff a new DNA crime lab and retain 50 cops hired originally by an expiring federal grant.
But on Wednesday, Hall –– an oft-controversial figure for his implementation of the federal 287(g) deportation program –– seemed to take a swipe at Dean’s commitment to all of Metro’s public safety entities.
“I respect him greatly,” Hall told the The City Paper, but added: “Public safety is more than just staffing a police department and hiring and operating a DNA lab. And he knows that. It is broader than that.”
Inside his jails, Hall pointed out mental health and alcoholic and drug treatment services are provided. “The equity when we’re talking about public safety needs to be thought out as a community,” he said. The sheriff’s office should play a larger part in that discussion, he said.
Before a final vote later this month, the mayor’s budget can still be tweaked in the council’s Budget and Finance Committee. Hall, hoping to restore funding in his department, appears to already have some allies to do just that.
“When we talk about public safety, the sheriff’s department is the flip side of the coin of the police department,” Councilman Phil Claiborne told his colleagues Wednesday. He called the sheriff’s office situation “serious” and an “anomaly” in the council’s budget hearings. Others have gone smoothly.
“If we are really at a place where we’re reaching a yellow zone or a red zone in terms of staffing as it relates to the control or supervision of the prisoners that we have, then I think we have a legitimate reason to reevaluate this budget,” Claiborne said.
Councilwoman Karen Johnson agreed. “I’m concerned with what I’m hearing this evening,” she said.