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County supervisors: Sheriff needs to control those overtime costs

Following a heated discussion, the Pierce County Finance and Personnel Committee voted Monday night to recommend that an $81,000 Sheriff's Department overrun be covered by the county's general fund.

About $35,000 of the costs above the 2005 budget were attributed to higher gasoline costs, and there was little objection to that. The major bone of contention Monday was over $60,000 in overtime salary costs.

Revenues and savings on other Sheriff's Department line items offset part of the overrun.

County Board Chairman Paul Barkla suggested the department be required to repay the general fund money over time.

"Why didn't you take a look at this thing and save a buck here and there?" Barkla asked Sheriff Everett Muhlhausen.

The sheriff said his department, which has asked for more officers repeatedly, runs a skeleton crew and had four people out on medical leave during part of last year.

He said since 2001, the number of calls for service are up 15%, jail book-ins are up 26%, traffic citations are up 28% and arrests are up 115%.

"We're busy," concluded Muhlhausen. Yet, he said, his overtime budget has been cut and last year after he presented his budget, the committee directed him to trim another 2%.

Rather than use the local shooting range, the department paid overtime to send officers to a range in Pepin County for training, said Barkla.

The Pierce County range was under construction and officers weren't allowed to use it until July or August, replied Muhlhausen. He said he didn't know about that problem when he prepared his budget.

Barkla also complained that Muhlhausen didn't respond to a Personnel Department request for information about staff who work alternative schedules.

"You want money from us to pay these expenses but won't respond to requests for information," complained Barkla. He said Muhlhausen provides information "on your terms."

"I voted against giving them the $81,000," said former Law Enforcement Committee member Greg Kerr.

He said the sheriff insists on using Crown Victorias as squad cars even though they're more expensive to buy and run than other vehicles.

The department needs to be willing to look at ways to cut costs, said Kerr. "We need to explore other options."

Supervisor Jim Camrey wondered why overtime expenses, such as those needed for training new officers, couldn't be included in the budget.

"There's already overtime built into the budget," replied Kerr. "This is overtime over the overtime budget."

The department's budget has been cut $35,000 over the past few years and as the county gives regular raises to deputies, there is less money for other costs, said Muhlhausen.

"There seems to be a pattern here," commented Supervisor Jeff Holst. He suggested the sheriff work with his committee to develop a realistic budget and "prove why you need it on the front end."

"We've got more people violating the law," said Supervisor Rich Purdy. "The only way I can see you can save money is to not (arrest) them."