Palo Alto County's sheriff-elect met with the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday afternoon to discuss a personnel matter that will be his first challenge upon taking office on January 1, 2013. Lynn Schultes, who was elected to fill the post currently held by Sheriff Dennis Goeders, has a dilemma ahead of him.
"As you know, Denny Goeders will be retiring on Dec. 31," Schultes began as he met with the Supervisors. "And, Todd Suhr has informed me he will be retiring effective Jan. 11, 2013, which means there will be two vacancies in the Sheriff's Office. The Civil Service Commission assists the sheriff in filling such vacancies, and I would like to request your approval to call the Civil Service Commission to develop a list of eligible candidates to fill those two vacancies."
That's when the discussion began in earnest.
"During the campaign, there was a lot of talk about budgets and the like," noted Board Chair Keith Wirtz. "With those budget concerns in mind, I'd like to think about filling any vacancies before doing anything."
"A six-man department will be very difficult to maintain," Schultes responded. "Losing two officers is one-quarter of our staff. In a business, if you lose a quarter of your employees, that's huge."
"I just think we need to have some discussions on this," Wirtz said.
"I'll say that I've seen deputies' cars sitting in Mallard and Ayrshire, and out writing tickets on the highway. If they have enough time to do all that, then we have too many deputies," Supervisor Jerry Hofstad said. "Deputies need to take care of county business. I've promoted the idea of one less deputy for a long time and that's how I feel."
Palo Alto County Attorney Lyssa Henderson, who was on hand for the discussion, spoke up. "I know you as supervisors have budgetary concerns, but law enforcement is not the area where you need to make cuts,"
Henderson went on to discuss the increases in burglaries, alcohol violations, mental health committals and other offenses that have taken place over the last few years, due in large part to the economic conditions.
"I would be concerned if we were to cut the number of deputies," Henderson told the supervisors. "It was looked at in Emmet County, but it was not well received by the public. They were concerned about the safety of the public if the number of deputies were reduced. I just don't think it is a place to cut."
Schultes agreed. "I don't think the citizens want that either. As I campaigned, I never heard anyone say they felt we were overstaffed I heard people say they though we needed more deputies. And, the citizens defeated proposition A about reducing the size of the Board. If they were upset with the service of the board, they would have voted to cut the size of the board. I haven't heard anyone ask to cut the size of the department."
Schultes pointed out that one of the arguments about reducing the size of the board had been the cost savings of less people. Using that argument for deputies would be very difficult to predict a cost savings, according to the sheriff-elect.
Supervisor Ed Noonan asked Schultes if he could see any potential cost savings in the sheriff's budget.
"Denny turned in $40,000 left over from his budget last year back to the General Fund," Schultes answered. "I think that was awesome to be able to do. Can I say I'll be able to do that? I can't stand here right now and say I will. I can tell you I will work on a budget that's as economical as possible, and I will turn any surplus monies back to the General Fund."
Schultes presented the board with some statistics on the sheriffs' office, starting with the number of calls assigned to deputies. In 2010, there were 1,995 calls assigned. So far in 2012, there have been an average of 211 per month, which would equal 2,517 by the end of the year, an increase of 26 percent.
Arrests in 2010 totaled 135, and so far in 2012, 176 arrests have been made, an average of 17 arrests per month, That would total 210 by the end of the year, an increase of 55 percent.
"Incidents, which are assaults, burglaries, domestic abuse, criminal mischief and the like, totaled 102 in 2010," Schultes said. "So far in 2012, we've had 172, an average of 17 a month. At that rate, we'll see 206 incidents at the end of 2012, and that's a 101 percent increase. Trying to keep abreast of such increases with the eight people we currently have would be tough, but to do that with six would be even more difficult."
"If you can hold your own with what you have now, you're doing a hell of a job," Supervisor Leo Goeders said. "The way things are going, you'll have to hire someone in the future, the way it looks."
"I can certainly see hiring one deputy, but I just want to make sure we have enough information and are doing what's right with our budget," Wirtz said. "We need to give authorization for at least one deputy right now, but we still need to discuss this in terms of the budget. I'm not saying no, but I just want more information."
Wirtz asked the other supervisors for their thoughts.
"When I was campaigning, no one ever said we were understaffed," Noonan said. "People talked about budgets. I'm not saying no, either, but we need to look at this more."
"A lot of the budget stuff that was out there in the elections was all lies just to get people elected," Goeders said. "I know what the budgets have been and Lynn is telling the truth. I'm for two deputies."
"I've worked with the deputies and I think we need two deputies because of all that they are doing. We need to get on the stick," noted Supervisor Ron Graettinger. "I don't want to see us down two deputies. I never had it brought up to me that we had too many deputies."
"I'm sticking with what I said earlier," Hofstad said. "Go ahead and hire one, but I think we can cut one position."
With that, the board directed Schultes to call the Civil Service Commission to develop a list of qualified candidates for a position, and agreed to continue discussions on the second position.