By JESSE BURKHARDT
A plan to free sufficient funds to hire two more deputies for the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office by cutting back on overtime hours just won't work, according to Sheriff Chris Mace.
The concept, which proposed trading most of the department's overtime budget in exchange for additional staff, was considered during the 2003 budget process between KCSO and the Board of County Commissioners. The idea was that having two more road deputies could sharply reduce the need for paying overtime to the existing staff.
Last week, Mace said the tradeoff was unworkable.
"We couldn't operate without overtime," Mace said. "We're not staffed to operate without overtime. You can't possibly eliminate overtime in a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week operation, especially when you can get in critical situations where more than one or two deputies have to respond."
Ray Thayer, chair of the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners, said Mace had the option of shifting his funds away from overtime to accommodate new hires.
"That's his decision. I was sure I heard in the budget process that he was considering that pretty heavily," Thayer said. "Apparently he has had a change of mind."
KCSO is operating on a $3 million budget for 2003. That includes $192,733 set aside for overtime pay.
KCSO's 2002 budget was about $2.9 million.
"Overall it's a bit more [than 2002], but the labor agreement gave the staff raises, so the increases we got were to cover those increases," Mace pointed out. "We didn't get what we requested to fund those other positions."
Hiring two new deputies would cost KCSO a total of about $100,000, including salaries, benefits, and equipment.
Mace added that the new three-year union contract, agreed to by the County Commissioners, provides that KCSO's members of the Washington State Council of City and County Employees (AFL-CIO) will be eligible for more overtime than in 2002.
"Certain call-outs will be eligible for overtime that weren't eligible in the last contract," Mace said.
The union contract covers all KCSO employees except the administrative staff.
"Without overtime, nobody would be able to respond after hours. If someone was on vacation or sick, we couldn't fill that position, and couldn't call in people on emergencies," Mace explained. "We try our best to maintain at least two people on duty, and in the peak hours, like Friday and Saturday, we try to have three. But that depends on vacations, training, sickness, those kinds of issues. But certain hours in every day, there is on-call time. We still lack 24-hour coverage."
"I only know we set a budget amount [for KCSO], and it was additional money over last year," Thayer responded. "How he elects to use that is his call."
Mace and the commissioners met on Feb. 26 and agreed to eliminate two sergeant positions in the jail, then reassign the two sergeants as correction officers. The two KCSO employees would lose about $1.50 per hour off their current salaries, but next year, the sergeant positions could be reinstated -- funds permitting.
According to Mace, this move will save the department approximately $8,000 for 2003.
"It's kind of disappointing, and they're not happy about it. But the fact is, we have to save what we can," Mace said.