County finance leaders eyeball maintenance in BCSO talks

By BRIAN GRAVES brian.graves@clevelandbanner.com
Posted 5/3/17

Two issues with the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office and Justice Center budgets took center stage during the Commission Finance Committee budget hearings Tuesday afternoon, and the sheriff and …

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County finance leaders eyeball maintenance in BCSO talks

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS Capt. Steve Lawson, Bradley County Sheriff’s Office Finance Director Cassandra Burgess and Corrections Capt. Gabe Thomas represented the BCSO at Tuesday’s Commission budget hearings.
CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS Capt. Steve Lawson, Bradley County Sheriff’s Office Finance Director Cassandra Burgess and Corrections Capt. Gabe Thomas represented the BCSO at Tuesday’s Commission budget hearings.
Banner photo, BRIAN GRAVES
Posted

Two issues with the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office and Justice Center budgets took center stage during the Commission Finance Committee budget hearings Tuesday afternoon, and the sheriff and his maintenance supervisor are responding to those issues.

The total budget request of the BCSO is $7,947,333 which is $23,241 less than last year, but it was the increase of $31,137 for vehicles which took the first hit.

Commissioner Dan Rawls said he had complaints about the current conditions of the patrol fleet, especially the tires.

“I have had deputies who have contacted me and said their cars don’t have tires, they’re in bad shape, and most of the cars are not adequately equipped with tires and maintenance,” Rawls said. “But, we have a non-patrol individual which had a car purchased for them. That car should be put on patrol and the non-patrol should be driving a car with much higher mileage and not the 2013 car that was just purchased.”

Rawls said when the deputies, who he did not identify, called him he looked at the cars and the tires “were atrocious.”

“These are the sort of things which really aggravate everyone who has been paying attention to what is going on here,” he said.

Sheriff Eric Watson, who did not attend the hearing due to his presence being necessary at the murder trial of Jody Hughes, said Rawls is wrong in his statements.

“When I entered office, we had dozens of vehicles with more than 200,000 miles,” Watson said. “I have maintained a standard that we do not keep any vehicle with more than 150,000 miles on it.”

He said there are many counties which have a required used vehicle sale at the 100,000-mile mark, something the sheriff said he would request if the county could afford it.

“Any suggestion that we would put our officers on patrol in any more danger than they face every day by having them use vehicles that are not safe in any way is just crazy,” Watson said.

He noted the BCSO now has a Deputy Advisory Council where representatives are elected by each shift. They have regular meetings where any concerns about the department are openly discussed and he has no knowledge of any such concerns being addressed.

“The fact is there have been no such complaints that have come across my desk concerning the tires or any other vehicle maintenance issue such as was mentioned at the budget hearing,” Watson said. “We have a far better fleet than this department has seen in a long time.”

BCSO Maintenance Supervisor Mike Boggess, a 30-plus year veteran with the agency who was in charge of the garage for more than a decade, told the Cleveland Daily Banner he knows of no issues with the tires which are now on the roads.

“Goodyear, which is the tires we put on the cars, are on state contract. The tires are quite expensive, but they basically let us have them for half the cost,” Boggess said. “There is a mark on the tires which shows the tires are as good as brand new until they are worn down just past that mark.”

He said the tires are “just as good when they are down to that wire mark as they are brand new,” he said.

“We always change them when they get down to that wire mark,” Boggess said.

He said tires are never just plugged, they are patched, meaning the tires are broken down where a patch can be installed so “if you skid on the pavement, it wouldn’t jerk that plug out where the tire has been patched.”

“When it comes to people’s interpretation on whether tires are worn out, there’s a whole gambit of it,” Boggess said. “Some can run them with the steel showing through and never say a word, then you get a guy who wants to replace them.”

He said the average patrol car can run tires around 17,000 miles.

“We tried to allow $1,000 of maintenance costs per car,” Boggess said. “That includes oil changes, breaks, and tires if need be. Some vehicles may not need all of those and would not use the entire $1,000. A car may have a transmission go out which is more expensive. It all washes out at the end.”

He said officers come into the garage all the time asking for things “and somebody has to say yes or no.”

The second subject was concerning maintenance at the jail.

Finance Chairman Milan Blake pointed out the jail has received $151,757 for maintenance expenses since 2007.

“The Commission also gave an extra $80,000 when we first took office for shower stalls and things like that,” Blake said.

He noted the new budget request for building maintenance is down to $58,000, which is a $57,000 decrease from last year. The new budget also shows an increase from $29,715 to $106,715 in maintenance and repair services equipment.

“Basically, we’re going to give you $20,000 more for maintenance,” Blake said.

BCSO Finance Director Cassandra Burgess said what she was attempting to do is “get every line item in our budget controlled so certain things are taken from certain lines and to keep things from being taken out from where they are not supposed to be.”

“What we are trying to do is keep building maintenance just that,” Burgess said. “Repairs to the roof or plumbing [is in that category]. We are asking for the $57,000 to go to the equipment and asking for the increase of $20,540. That would be our air units, our equipment in the kitchen, two big washers and dryers that require maintenance, washers and dryers in the pods that require maintenance, intercom, sprinkler systems that require yearly maintenance – there’s a lot to it.”

She also noted when the air conditioners go out over the courtrooms, the BCSO is responsible for those repairs, along with any building repairs for those officers.

“We house inmates. If they get mad and break a sprinkler head, we have to fix that,” Burgess said. “We don’t receive restitution on that.”

“My opinion is that is a little bit over what you need in the budget at this time,” Blake said.

Commission Chairman Louie Alford said what concerned him was “the giant increase in the maintenance budget over the last three years.”

“Is the building falling apart?” Alford asked.

He asked if there had been bidding on the projects, as the county has a policy that anything over $10,000 requires a bidding process.

Specifically asking about a $30,000 repair to the kitchen area, Burgess acknowledged it should have been bid, but that was before she began her position, and she could not answer the question.

Corrections Capt. Gabe Thomas said he was not involved in that process, but did give the information the kitchen floor was in need of repairs, according to the review by the Tennessee Corrections Institute, “and it was going to have to be fixed and they got it fixed.”

Alford said the costs for air-conditioning maintenance had increased from $4,000 to $40,000 currently.

“It looks like we could replace them with new ones,” he added.

“We have to attack what is tearing up and be smart in doing that,” said CID Capt. Steve Lawson. “But, we have to take care of the problem. If the cost of maintenance goes up, we need to document and communicate that to [the Commission]. That’s part of the process.”

Alford said he believed it would be beneficial to “start bidding some of this stuff out.”

“We’re spending thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars on maintenance items and nothing ever gets bid,” he said.

Watson said he has “absolute faith” in his maintenance department.

“I give them the space to do what they need to do,” the sheriff said. “The maintenance of the building is their responsibility and I think they have done an outstanding job. It bothers me that appears to be called into question.”

Boggess said in the circumstance of the air-conditioning units, it is a matter of safety.

“We have 42 heat and air units which are up to 15 years old,” Boggess said. “What we did during the summer was give attention to the gas heat exchangers which were rusting out and had holes in them. If you attempt to run them like that, you will cause carbon monoxide and you’ll kill about 40 people in one of the pods.”

Boggess said there was a program implemented to identify the problems and replace those exchangers.

“Some of that was different repairs for different reasons,” he added. “But, it was not a $40,000 expenditure all it one time. It was not done that way.”

Boggess said he is familiar with the bidding policies and “would never do anything illegal or anything that would make this department look bad.”

He also noted bidding is not required in emergency situations, and coincidentally, there was a problem with the air-conditioning system in the courtroom where the murder trial is being held at the same time the budget hearing was being held.

“It can cost us up to $6,000 if we have to replace a compressor,” Boggess said. “These are massive units, and they are not cheap to keep up.”

He said the department at one time used Hal Taylor for HVAC repairs “who was the cheapest and always did a good job.”

After Taylor’s retirement, he gave the company to his workers, which is now called Victory HVAC.

“They do a lot of stuff for us for free,” Boggess said. “Using that company began under a different administration.”

“That company worked with our insurance company to repair all of our units after the tornadoes hit,” he said. “They came in and the insurance company was tickled to death at the cost. It was cheaper than what they were used to paying. They have been doing our work since Tim Gobble was sheriff.”

Boggess said it is an advantage to have a company with a familiarity of the system to call on when problems arise.

“We have a computerized system that they are familiar with,” he said. “I can tell just by that computer system if the problem is just a broken belt.”

He said the repairs were done three units at a time, because “we knew we could not afford to do them all at once.”

Boggess said Victory HVAC allows the jail to place a maintenance worker or trustee with the company’s representative, “and he gives us a lot cheaper rate because he does not have to bring his people with him. We furnish him with all the manpower he needs.”

“It is our job to keep that jail open,” Boggess said. “Replacing those heat exchangers meant saving people’s lives. How many places think that far ahead that we need to check these and make sure they’re OK? That was a project I planned last summer in the last budget to get them ready for winter.”

Boggess said a repair service is called “only when it’s something we can’t fix.”

“We replace belts, repair squirrel cages, we change filters every three months and those units have up to six filters each,” he said. “We’re talking about major jobs. We’re next to APD 40, next to the railroad tracks, and have a block company on the north end. Because of all the pollution in the air, that all attaches to our coils. It is us that are constantly cleaning those coils to keep them operating in an optimal way. It was worse recently because of the construction on the workhouse and had a lot more dust and debris in the air. We were having to change some of those filters twice a week.”

“We have saved thousands of dollars by doing a lot of this work in-house. We can’t let this stuff get out of hand,” Boggess said. “We planned on using our maintenance money to re-do all of those units, and we did.”

Watson said the BCSO maintenance department takes care of six elected officials’ offices at the Justice Center, including the sheriff, the court clerk, the district attorney and three judges.

The sheriff also pointed out his department returned $186,000 in unused funds back to the county’s general fund in last year’s budget.

“We’re very conservative with our money and we watch every penny,” Watson said. “That practice will continue.”

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