BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – The Lee County Jail will get a partial boost to staffing possibly by the end of the month.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Lee County Board of Supervisors, the board approved immediately hiring two more full-time correctional officers despite a motion being on the floor to hire four.
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber had asked the board at last week’s meeting to add at least four full-time correctional officers due to a steady increase in jail population. Weber told the board that at times this year the inmates totaled over 100 and the average is hovering between 80 and 90 per day. Which is 10 to 15 more than the 72 the department had budgeted based on prior year’s numbers.
After close to 20 minutes of discussion on the issue, Supervisor Matt Pflug made a motion to approve the four new officers citing an increase in fees being collected at the sheriff’s department as a possible way to cover the costs of the new staff.
But supervisors Gary Folluo and Ron Fedler balked at the four and no second was given. The motion didn’t technically die from a lack of a second because discussion began before a second was heard on the motion. Supervisor Don Hunold was not in attendance.
Hunold and Pflug were to be part of discussions with county officials about the budget including Auditor Denise Fraise, county Budget Director Cindy Renstrom, and Weber, as to how to fund the extra officers.
“Looking at what they’ve received so far in first quarter of ’17 taken times 4, its roughly going to be about $171,000 more in fees they’ve already raised,” she said. “Last year they brought in $287,436. They eliminated the money that goes directly to the state, so this year they anticipate $458,000.
Folluo said he wanted to put off the vote on the four because Hunold was absent.
“I’d like all the supervisors to be here to vote because it’s going to effect all the rural residents because they’re going to have an increase in rural basic. No matter what we take in in fees… we take in fees in the treasurer’s office, but that doesn’t offset the cost of driver’s license or anything like that. The fees just go back into the general fund,” he said.
The total package for the four would have been $228,000.
Pflug said four would give them a chance to enhance security at the courthouses as well.
“We also agreed that if that jail population were to decrease, you could move those folks to county buildings,” Pflug said. “That’s a key thing to talk about here, too. We have an immediate need there as well. Again, I think if we’re talking money here, and this is my opinion, you find the money and then come budget time next year or the first of the year you can make cuts elsewhere aside from those increased fees. We have to do something. We can’t sit here and allow that to happen again in our jails. With a population of 100 and one c.o. on shift – that’s problematic. We keep putting this off and we go another week something bad happens, that’s on our watch.”
Folluo asked Weber prior to getting a second, if two would suffice until the next budget year.
“I’m not going to say no to anything,” Weber said. “Two would be progress and that would fill that one overnight shift to give us a second officer there. Four would be great, But we could work with two and work with you again in January during budget time and see where we are. But two would be a very conservative approach I think.”
The department currently has 14 full-time jail staff and five part-time positions that cover vacations and time off and other down times for the full-time staff. The jail is down one part-time officer currently.
Weber said as soon as two of the part-time officers can get physicals he can get the personnel in line, but he said after the meeting he had to post the positions for at least one week.
The county’s budget process begins in January and February of next year, but won’t take effect until July 1 so if the supervisors approve adding two more correctional officers in the next budget, they wouldn’t be authorized until July unless a budget amendment were to be taken up.
Weber said two would only help the jail situation and may not extend into the county buildings depending on the jail daily population.
“I understand where you’re coming from if you want to do two now and then go back in January and take a hard look again. I’m not going to push away from the table like a little kid mad, We’re all in this together,” he said.
Fedler said the county has to be responsible with taxpayer money.
“I agree with Stacy, he needs more officers, but we have an obligation to provide the financing from the county,” said Supervisor Ron Fedler. “This isn’t a one-time expense. This will be going on all the time. So if we could find a way where we can provide the money to staff them that’s where my concern is without deficit spending,” Fedler said.
Fedler said he could support getting two now and then looking at adding two in the new budget process.
Pflug amended his motion to two officers and Fedler seconded that motion which passed 4-0.
“It’s well-needed,” Folluo said. “It’s just that adding $228,000 to an already established budget is a huge hit,” Folluo said.
Fraise said with the increased fees the department is billing for services, the budget should be able to absorb the increased costs.
After the meeting, Weber said he appreciated the work of the board and reiterated that he hated to see a potential property tax hike, but he has a responsibility to his staff, his department, and the jail inmates.
He also said he didn’t support a plan of attrition which Folluo suggested at last week’s meeting to help offset increased jail costs.
“I don’t want to see the attrition thing. We worked hard to get the extra deputies and the people appreciate that. They like to see detectives come to their crime scenes. The world is changing and we need to stay up with it,” he said.
In an unrelated topic, the board also heard from West Point residents Mike Flock and Rusty Robbins about the lack of high speed internet access in some rural Lee County areas. Folluo told them it was matter of dollars and cents and companies weren’t required to come out and provide the service. Robbins said Lisco has provided service to several individual landowners but won’t hook up those that are still without the service.
“We kind of feel like the step-children of Lee County out here,” Robbins said.