Following their Wednesday morning meeting, Hamilton County Commissioners heard from a Hamilton County corrections officer who suggested workers in his department receive raises this year.
Jonathan Walker, who has worked six years in the Sheriff's Corrections Division, said he and his co-workers had not received the cost-of-living raises they had been promised on several occasions.
"Every year we've been told we're getting a cost-of-living raise, and we've never gotten it," Walker said. "This year we were told we'd be getting a cost-of-living raise of about 2 to 3 percent, but our raise is going to be cancelled out by costs going up on our insurance. So I'm pretty sure we do not get a raise. It's hard to keep officers who have been there 18 or 19 years with the experience that you need in that job."
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger pushed back on "rumors" of increases in insurance.
"It does bother me somewhat ... how these rumors get started," Coppinger said. "Just so you’ll know, there’s no intent about any increase in insurance."
Citing limited revenue streams and high expectations of taxpayers, Coppinger said officials were doing their best to compensate employees given the tough economic times.
"Employees, I understand, are tired of hearing that. They want more. We want you to have more," he said. "But again, we've got to be very conscientious how we make that occur."
A handful of commissioners offered sympathies to Walker but repeatedly reminded him that the allotment of the budget was up to the sheriff's office, not the County Commission. Commissioner Fred Skillern called it an "age-old problem."
"Sometimes things are out of our control, and all we can do is supply the money," Skillern said. "If you look at the budget, it has gone up every year. But because it is a constitutional office, that limits our control. We may give an extra million or 2 million and earmark it for raises, and you may not get a penny. We have no authority over that; it's not our wishes, but it's the law."
Commissioner Greg Beck reiterated Skillern's point.
"I commend your courage, but what has been said up here by Commissioner Skillern is absolutely true," he said. "… We give the money, but how the raise gets to you is a different story. We are certainly sympathetic."
Offering praise to Hamilton County employees for "stepping up" to deliver services at the same level after cutting $13 million from the budget and 55 positions last year, Coppinger asked for more patience.
"... We're having to make the tough choices up here, and I know that's not much consolation to you," he said addressing Walker. "But we will work with you and try do do the best we can."
"I know it's hard to say you're going to believe government, but I ask that you believe us and be patient with us," he said.
Attempts by Nooga.com to reach Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond were unsuccessful.
Updated @ 11:35 a.m. on 5/17/12 to add comment and clarification from Jim Coppinger.