For almost two decades, the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk’s Office charged and collected the wrong jail fee amount.
As a result the county lost out on at least $1 million.
The problem was discovered earlier this week and fixed Thursday morning.
“For 19 years we have not been charging what the law says we should be charging,” Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond said.
In July 1997, the Knox County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution raising the daily jail fee for those incarcerated from $46.20 to $50.
However, the criminal court clerk’s office never acknowledged the increase.
“Realistically, or conservatively, I should say, we believe the county has missed out on over a $1 million,” Hammond said. “And it’s more than that, but that’s the conservative number.”
Hammond, who took office in September 2014, said he asked his chief of staff, Richard Major, to look at all fees his office charges and collects and to make sure the costs are in line with state and local law.
Major discovered the error on Wednesday.
“You look at well over $1 million and that’s money that could go toward this new safety center (for the mentally ill) that they’re talking about,” Hammond said. “Or it could go to jail improvements, or it could go to the sheriff’s department to buy additional supplies or things for the jail system.”
Moving forward, Hammond said, he expects jail fee collections to bring in an additional $50,000 to $60,000 in revenues for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.
This isn’t the first time Hammond and his staff have discovered a problem tied to collections.
Last June, officials learned the office – since 1992 – failed to properly collect the local litigation tax.
In 1992, commissioners raised that tax from $26.25 to $28.50.
In 1995, the board the increased it for the Fourth Circuit Court from $21.50 to $23.75.
The Knox County Criminal Court Clerk's Office, which is the record keeper for the three courts, never collected the new amounts after the changes were implemented.
Hammond discovered the mistake after commissioners last summer bumped the tax by another $5. At the time, he was researching the tax’s past increases.
He declined to place blame on his employees or past employees, but he isn’t sure why the office didn’t comply with the commission-approved changes he’s discovered since taking office.
“As to why it was not implemented, we don’t know,” he said. “We only found it because we were doing an analysis of all of our fees to make sure that we had the statutory authority for it.”
Hammond's predecessor, Joy McCroskey, ran the office beginning in mid-2008. She took over after Martha Phillips – who was elected to the job in the 1980s – died.
Hammond said at this point believes his office is now charging the correct amount of all fees and taxes it oversees.
“We’re comfortable that (the jail fee) is the last one – we think everything else is correct,” he said.