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Dispatch, Jail Staffing Revisited By Board Of Supervisors

By Staff | Jul 16, 2015

For the second week in a row, staffing issues at the Palo Alto County Communications Center and Jail were a major topic of discussion at the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

“The Sheriff’s Department has lost fourteen jailers and eleven dispatchers since 2011. I looked up figures for part time employees last year to see if a pay differential would make a difference, at an additional $4 per hour, the sheriffs office would pay out an extra $28,136 for two additional part-time employees per year, ” Sheriff Lynn Schultes told the board.

“Could we do a trial basis of a pay differential of $2 per hour for nights, weekends, and holidays for part time employees?” asked Supervisor Ed Noonan.

“I sent out a questionnaire to employees, which are members of the union,” said Schultes. “The answer I got in response from 11 of the 13 members of the union was basically “No,” they do not want to modify their contract, which will be renegotiated next year. Another concern I would have with that idea is that the full-time employees might use this as leverage for contract negotiations next year, and the other unions in the county, for that matter.”

“I would be willing to try this if the union would agree to modify their contract.” stated Supervisor Linus Solberg.

“My thought is we should hire one full-time person that is cross trained for both dispatch and jail, and try to get by with the part-time employees we currently have and forget any pay differential,” stated Supervisor Ron Graettinger. “But I think we need one more person for sure.”

“I will need to look into this further and see if it would be beneficial to hire only one full-time employee.” Schultes said. “Many times a part-time employee is promoted from within, then the only training cost would be the opposite department they are in. That we may be better off just hiring one person for either dispatch or jail and working with the part-time employees we currently have.”

“It is easy for us to just increase the budget,” observed Noonan. “But one needs to stop and look at others areas of the budget for ways to decrease it to make up for the budget increase, that’s what I hear from the taxpayers. They don’t object to spending if we can save money somewhere else.”

“You could always have the full-time person, who does not stay with the job for a set amount of time, pay back the costs of training,” Graettinger remarked.

That’s fine,” commented Schultes, “but if the Sheriff’s office has to do this, then I want to see the same for the county road crew and the offices in the courthouse. I keep hearing we want to treat everyone the same in the county, but I think it will be harder to find people if we make them repay training costs.”

“So our union agreement won’t let us do a shift differential?” Board Chair Craig Merrill asked Schultes.

“Only by a mutual agreement of the union members,” Schultes answered.

“I’m just shocked that the union wouldn’t want to have that,” Solberg said. “I would think the union would want to modify their contract so that the coverage would be there.”

“The turnover issue is with the part-time employees,” stated Merrill, “I don’t see this being a big problem with full-time employees, so what if we hired you one full-time employee. Would that solve some of the personnel issues?”

“If you do only approve the hiring of one full-time person,” said Schultes, “I only ask that you let me decide which department is in greater need.”

After Schultes left the meeting, the board resumed the discussion on the issue, after Graettinger brought the issue up again.

“We are trying to help them by raising wages for part-time employees and they basically shot it down by not wanting to modify their union contract,” said Noonan, “so I don’t think we should do anything at this time.”

“We tried to help,” stated Solberg. “They voted against it. You would think they could try and meet us in the middle. I say at this point we should do nothing.”

“We need to be able to meet in the middle,” stated Merrill.

“Before we vote on anything, I think two of our supervisors need to meet with two of Emmet County’s supervisors and see if they have any ideas or suggestions for us,” Noonan commented.

“They need to know that they have to pay back the cost of training if they do not stay for a specified amount of time,” said Graettinger, “but I also think a couple of us supervisors need to meet with the union representatives and get their opinions and see if there is not a middle ground to reach.”

“This is definitely something that must be discussed further. We do need to meet with the Emmet County Supervisors and find out what has worked for them before we vote,” stated Merrill.

Discussion was tabled.