Welcome aboard one more time. Today I believe that we will have a slow trip around the county with the deputies of the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office. I hope this does not put the jinx on us but it has been fairly slow of late for once and I hope that trend continues. We did have one search warrant that we served in a drug case on Jan. 14 that had a fair measure of success. I have already sent out a news release on that case and I will not repeat the details here today.
The big news of the week for us would be that on Sunday, Jan. 17, we at very long last get to start the training process for the five new jail staff members. The federal grant that we won last year in September has been very slow to develop due to red tape that we had to overcome, but at last we begin. Also, the new staff will get their medical training from the Advanced Correctional Health Care staff in the morning session. In the afternoon session they will be trained in the operation of the live scan fingerprint machine. Somewhere in all of that they will also get to listen to a speech from me for 30 minutes or so as the low point of the day. I have to be in the office Sunday to set up the payroll anyway and I thought I might as well bore them to death as a bonus.
It is going to be a real pleasure when we get these folks trained. This will enable us to do the jail job much better with fewer forgotten details. It also means that I can move a 1,000 hour part time job from the jail to the road and give us a shade more punch for our criminal work. It will mean that I can manage the overtime and actually begin to roll back the accumulated overtime that is on the books. Both of those actions will help us to reduce the financial payout that we have faced the past five years with only five people to work the 24/7/365 schedule. The jail grant was worth $288,921 in federal dollars for us.
It means that unlike the past five years when a staff member quits we can actually avoid working our remaining staff on overtime and we can take our time hiring the new staff member. We will no longer be forced to work the remaining four people overtime just to get the job done. It means that the new staff member can be trained without forced overtime. This grant will save the county a lot of money in the long run — a whole lot of money — and greatly reduce our risk of lawsuits from the jail.
We were also notified last week that we finally have hiring authority for the federal evidence room/dispatch grant. The payroll for the new evidence room staff member also starts on Sunday. This means that we will at last be able to devote the time we need to clean out the evidence room. We have far too many pieces of old evidence that are no longer needed for court and we are running out of space. This cleanup will be a long slow process since each piece of evidence must be investigated as to need for court use, ownership of the item, and clearance from the prosecuting attorney and the circuit judgees for destruction. The evidence/dispatch grant was worth $170,502 in salary and equipment for us.
On the dispatch side of the grant, we get to hire two new people. We already have one hired and we did job applicant interviews on Friday, Jan. 15, for the remaining position. We had a bit of a set back here because the Pulaski County Commissioners cut one of the dispatch positions I had hoped to fill from the regular budget. My hope had been to go into the New Year with five full-time budget dispatchers and two grant dispatchers. I currently have two senior dispatch people who have lots of overtime on the books and I had hoped to use the extra people to cover as we slowly worked the overtime down and save the county the payout for the overtime. With seven dispatchers I could have done that faster. The lost position will also mean that on the extremely busy Friday and Saturday night summer shifts when I had hoped to have two dispatchers on duty, we will have to scale back that program. If you are a person who listens to the police scanner, you know very well how crazy it can get on a summer weekend night shift in Pulaski County.
The county commissioners had asked me to visit with them on Jan. 14 and the session went fairly well. Many of you will remember that for the 2009 budget, the commissioners cut several deputy and dispatch positions from our budget. Since we were able to finish under budget in 2009 and the county sales tax revenue increased, I submitted my 2010 budget for the exact same bottom line dollar amount that we had in 2009. I did move the dollars around within the budget quite a bit but the bottom line was the exact same as last year. My hope was that the commissioners would be gentle on us for once.
In the 2010 budget I tried to get back some of the employees that we lost in 2009. The commission cut one whole deputy salary and one dispatcher salary from the budget in the first round of the 2010 budget talks. They also cut $5,000 from our jail supply budget. They also cut some other odds and ends that were minor in nature. When I consider how budget talks with the commission have gone over the past five budget years, this was actually a nice session for once. I would like to say thanks to the commission for the smiles and humor that they displayed during the session.
However, the best news of all is that according to the local news reports the commission believes they have finished this year’s budget and they hope to finalize the budget report on Jan. 21. If so, that would mean only one round of cuts this year and no second budget cut session for us. That would be a great piece of news for the Sheriff’s Office. I will pass on any other budget news as it becomes known to us.
Once again it is time to bail out of this column. Please drive with care and please stay legal. We do not want or need your body in our jail, but if you just have to come visit us, you will find that the light bulb is burning bright.