BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – County supervisors almost voted to add four full-time correctional officers for the Lee County Jail, but set up a meeting instead to discuss how to pay for the officers first.
At Tuesday’s Lee County Board of Supervisor’s meeting, Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber asked the board to allow him to hire four additional correctional officers at the Lee County Jail, which would add one per shift.
The move would cost about $228,000 per year. Weber said he had part-time officers that he would like to promote and then backfill the part-time positions to help cover staff vacations and time off requests.
Funds for the hirings could come from a “Fund 10″ in which the county holds funds for costs associated with mental health issues.
Supervisor Matt Pflug asked County Budget Director Cindy Renstrum if she had reached out to the state auditor about using those funds.”
“Can we talk about Fund 10 and that money? We know that it has to be tagged mental health, correct? We know that can’t come into the general budget. Why couldn’t we access that? Have we talked to the state auditors?”
Renstrom said the conversation would have to take place with the Department of Human Services.
“It’s not going to be the state auditor, but a district DHS person. And the state gave us a number for a woman to contact and we would need to reach out to her,” Renstrom said.
Pflug asked if they can’t associate the jail staff as dealing with mental health, what can that money be used for.
RIck Larkin said the county needed to be careful putting permanent demands on that money without knowing what the state is going to do.
“My question would be with this fund are we going to reduce that down and then (the state) changes it and then we have to bring it back up. Any use we have in there that’s permanent may be a problem.”
Weber also said there’s additional space at the complex for more cells but he didn’t want to approach that issue this year. He said it wouldn’t require a bond to make that space usable for inmates.
Supervisor Gary Folluo suggested the space could be used for inmates with mental health issues and maybe the Fund 10 money could be used to expand the facility to address those specific needs at the jail.
Folluo also said that money to pay for the added correctional officers could come from attrition as deputies retire, possibly not replacing them.
Pflug said maybe he shouldn’t have brought it up using the fund, but he’s concerned about staffing levels and having issues like they had recently at the jail..
“I see an immediate need for COs after what we saw the other day,” Pflug said referring to an altercation between an inmate and an officer.
A correctional officer working an overnight shift alone had an altercation with a newly arrived offender from Fort Madison and the two fought for over three minutes in a cell before the officer got the situation under control. But the closest deputy, according to Weber, was 11 minutes away.
Weber said on the midnight shift there is one correctional officer on duty and the other three shifts run with two officers. He asked the supervisors to add four full-time officers which would put one additional officer on each shift.
He said on Nov. 1, the Lee County Jail had 106 inmates and that number fluctuates but it’s far greater than the 70 average being used to calculate budgets. In past meetings Weber said Lee County has been helping other counties out by taking in their overflow and those counties pay for that service and that’s helping offset the food budget, but the large number of offenders is taking its toll on the staff.
Pflug asked Weber if he had people ready to hire to fill the positions and Weber said he would first look to the part-time officers who could step into full-time positions,.
“They’ve paid their dues and I’d like to give them a chance to become full-time.” Weber said. “We could fill the positions.”
He said after the meeting that he would backfill the part-time positions so there wouldn’t be any savings.
“Our staff has been staying around and they are starting to accrue vacation time. And these jobs are tough and if these folks need to get away they should be able to do that,” Weber said.
Supervisor Don Hunold also saw the video and said it was disturbing to him.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to be in that situation and I’m a pretty big guy,” Hunold said.
He told the board he favored authorizing the hiring of four new officers and the county would find a way to pay for it.
Larkin recommended that Pflug and Hunold meet with Renstrom and other county officials on Wednesday to formulate a plan on paying for additional officers and bring it back to the supervisors’ meeting next Tuesday. He put that recommendation into a motion which then passed 5-0.