TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – Across the nation, activists are calling for changes to the practice of policing.
Mixed in with broad calls for change is a movement to defund the police. A search for the #DefundthePolice hashtag returns the answer – an urging to take funding away from police departments (and abolishing them) and rebuild what we now know as law enforcement.
Writers of these editorials assert that mere reform isn’t going to work, and instead call for the type of wholesale change enacted by the Camden, N.J. police department — though that city disbanded its police department and rebuilt it rather than defunding it.
On a local level, some area leaders have been meeting with activists in an effort to spearhead some change to law enforcement. News Channel 11 knows of no specific local calls for defunding law enforcement.
Given the national attention on funding, News Channel 11 has reviewed law enforcement and public safety funding in several communities in the Tri-Cities. We also elected to review funding for education, another large portion of local budgets, to provide some context.
The intent of our work is to inform people about the nuts and bolts of public funding for law enforcement and reveal as clearly as possible the portion of tax dollars that represents as a share of government spending.
Through a local lens
Locally, law enforcement budgets make up anywhere from 10%-20% of the general fund budget. In local governments we analyzed (Johnson City, Kingsport and Washington County, Tenn.), budgets for schools were as much as 10 times the amount budgeted for law enforcement, according to budgets for the fiscal year 2020, which ends June 30.
Schools and police departments don’t receive funding from the same sources. While most police departments receive funding through a local general fund (generally made up of local property taxes), schools receive a bulk of funding through state and federal channels.
Washington County, Tennessee
Law enforcement in Washington County comprised a full 46% of general fund expenses at $17.7 million. That total was split nearly evenly between the sheriff’s department and the jail.
Taken as a percentage of total revenues (all county operations and the schools) law enforcement was a smaller share of the pie.
Washington County directed $24.6 million in revenues from local property taxes* to its general fund in the Fiscal Year 2019 (year ending June 30, 2019). Adding in $6.6 million collected from fees, $3.3 million from the state, $1.5 million from the federal government and other, smaller streams of revenues, the county reported a total of $38.6 million in revenues that funneled into the county general fund.
From that $38.6 million, Washington County spent about $8.6 million on the sheriff’s department and about $9 million on the county jail, totaling about $17.9 million, accounting for about 46 percent of the general fund.
(Note: Washington County directs a percentage of property tax for highways, debt service, capital funds, solid waste and education. Excluding education but including these other funds, the sheriff’s department and jail expenditures total about 21 percent of the non-education budget after backing out non-tax revenues.)
Property taxes make up $14 million of that $17.9 million budgeted for the sheriff’s department (and detention center). If every Washington County citizen paid property taxes, that means each of the county’s 129,375 citizens paid about $108 for the sheriff’s department and detention center.
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The same year, Washington County budgeted $70.6 million in its school fund. More than half of the county school budget ($43.9 million) comes from state funds ($37.3 million) and federal funding ($6.6 million).
That leaves about $28.9 million that comes from local property taxes (13.6 million) and local option sales taxes ($15.3 million). That averages out to about $233.82 per Washington County citizen.
Kingsport’s general fund is fueled mostly by property and sales taxes. According to the budget for fiscal year 2019-20, property tax revenue makes up 51% of the general fund, while sales taxes make up about 22%.
For Fiscal Year 2019, Kingsport budgeted $82.4 million in the general fund, which means about $42 million came from property taxes and $18.1 million came from sales taxes, while $22.3 million comes from other sources such as service charges, fees, fines and other sources.
The Kingsport Police Department received about $12.5 million from the general fund (including almost $500,000 for jail operations), accounting for about 15% of the general fund budget.
According to the budget, $10.7 million of the money budgeted for the police department goes toward paying personnel, and the remaining $1.9 million funds operating costs.
KPD budgeted almost $187,000 for police training which includes eight weeks of basic training, sixteen weeks of field training and annual in-service training for all officers.
According to Johnson City’s approved budget for Fiscal Year 2020, the Johnson City Police Department received $15.4 million of the $94.3 million budgeted for the general fund, accounting for about 16.4% of the city’s general fund.
The city reported $91.8 million in revenues for the general fund. Of those revenues, property taxes make up $34.6 million, local sales taxes make up about $39 million, and the remaining $18 million comes from service charges, fines and other streams of revenue.
Like the other local governments we studied, Johnson City dedicates a far higher portion of local money to schools than it does to policing. In fiscal 2019, $39.8 million of locally generated tax money went to the schools’ $83.1 million budget.
That’s nearly triple the local contribution to policing. Throw in state and federal funding and the schools accounted for nearly half the “total government activities” of $167.7 million, while policing totaled about 9%.
Whatever other issues may be relevant to the conversations surrounding funding, defunding and the need to financially support needed services such as counseling, education and job training, a couple things are evident from this study and from prior News Channel 11 analysis.
First, local governments still spend significantly more educating children than they do paying for policing. Second, neither teachers nor law enforcement officers are getting rich at their work.