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Staffing Issue Presented To County Supervisors

By Staff | Jun 25, 2015

Ongoing issues with staffing for the Palo Alto County Jail and Communications Center were the topic of discussion between Sheriff Lynn Schultes and the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning.

“I’m here today to talk about the idea of hiring a full-time person as a jailer and a full-time person in the communications center,”?Schultes told the board. “It’s becoming harder and harder for the Sheriff’s Office to keep part-time employees on staff.”

According to Schultes, the jail and communications center are both short two part-time people after some recent personnel moves.

“We’ve got a history of having part-timers staying for a short period of time and then moving on,”?Schultes explained. “In the past 12 months, I’ve had three employees each in dispatch and jail move on, and we’ve only been able to fill one in each department.”

Another issue Schultes raised was the fact that there are part-time staffers who are working more than 28 hours in a week’s time, with some actually being scheduled 40 hours in order to fill schedules because a full-time person is out of work due to a personal issue.

“We also have to be careful, if a part-timer works over 1,500 hours in a year, then they fall under the requirements of Obamacare and we would have to provide them with affordable healthcare coverage,”?Schultes pointed out.

“It is unheard of to provide 24/7 emergency coverage with only three full-time people,” Schultes stated. “My office – patrol, jail and communications center, are open 8,760 hours each year including all holidays.”

“Since May of 2011, we have had 14 jailers leave us. In that same time, 11 dispatchers also left,” Schultes continued. “We’re just spinning our wheels with these staffing issues. I try to impress on our employees that they need to be efficient and use effective duty time management, but this ongoing hiring and training just blows that concept apart. We’re just wasting time and money trying to cover the hours of a 24/7 jail and dispatch center with part-time help.”

To solve the dilemma, Schultes asked the board to consider hiring a fourth full-time dispatcher for the Communications center and a fourth full-time jailer for the Jail. According to Schultes, such a move would not raise the salary line of his budget, since the hours would already be paid out as both Communications and Jail operate 24/7 currently.

“Training today is much more substantial than it was several years ago, due to technology and philosophy,”?Schultes noted. “If we were to have one of our current part-timers wish to move to full-time, there would be no additional training expense to do this.”

“Has there been any thought to perhaps looking at sharing dispatching with Emmet County?” asked Supervisor Ed Noonan.

Schultes replied there would be many issues to look at, such as wages, training, staffing, equipment and other considerations.

“I’d like to at least see a conversation between our counties about it,”?Noonan said, with Schultes agreeing to contact his counterpart in Emmet County.

“Are other counties having similar problems, or is this just a problem in our office?” asked Supervisor Linus Solberg.

“Other counties are having the problems, but probably not as much as we have,”?Schultes answered.

“Could one person do both jobs – work 20 hours in the jail and 20 hours in dispatch?”?Noonan asked.

“Yes, but they would still be full time, as it would be from the same employer,”?County Auditor Carmen Moser said.

“It would be tough, but possible,”?Schultes said.

“This is a tough decision for me to make,”?Noonan said. “I don’t like to lose people, because then the budget goes up to replace them.”

Schultes acknowledged Noonan’s opinion. “It is a tough decision for you, but I can say putting full-time people on would not increase the actual salary line in the budget. The only increase you would see would be in the insurance line.”

“We’re going to have to do something,”?Supervisor Ron Graettinger said. “I don’t think we can make a decision today. I’d like to think about it, maybe see what you can find out from Emmet County.”

The discussion ended with the board and Schultes agreeing to resume the conversation at the July 5 board meeting.