The Grant County Court unanimously approved creating two new sergeant positions with the sheriff’s office at the July 11 meeting.
One position will oversee the office’s road deputies, and the other will assist Sgt. Josh Wolf in overseeing the county jail. Grant County Treasurer Julie Ellison estimates that each position will cost about $80,000 per year, including salary, health insurance, retirement and other costs.
Increasing road deputies
In the case of the road sergeant, the goal is to eliminate the need to call out deputies, which puts a toll on staff and runs up overtime costs, Undersheriff Zach Mobley said.
Grant County Judge Scott Myers noted that he’d like to see officers have a chance to use their vacation time rather than just get the money.
The result would be the same seven-day-a-week patrol coverage for the road deputies, but the sheriff’s office will have a supervisor on duty for every shift, Mobley told the court. He and Sheriff Glenn Palmer hold administrative positions and have had to take over supervisory roles and respond to needs at night, he said.
Currently a fourth road deputy position is being filled on a temporary full-time basis by using a corrections deputy. That position will be replaced by the new road sergeant, who will be exempt from overtime pay, Mobley said.
Ellison told the Eagle the county last year budgeted $30,000 for overtime and $50,000 for relief help at the sheriff’s office last year. Costs ran $30,000 over that amount last year, totaling about $110,000, she said. The eclipse event and the Rainbow Gathering accounted for much of the unexpected costs.
Law enforcement agreements with John Day and Prairie City could help to cover additional costs of the road sergeant, Mobley said. Contracts between the county and the two cities have not yet been signed, but payments are being made, he said.
The county will not be able to keep those contracts without a fourth road deputy, Mobley said. He noted that Prairie City has a much higher call volume than Long Creek, Monument and Dayville combined. Without the fourth road deputy, Prairie City coverage would be for emergencies only, and John Day would have to figure out a solution on their own, Mobley said.
Ken Olson, a volunteer deputy who accrued long hours for the sheriff’s office last year, noted that the office is in reactive mode, with deputies running from call to call without the time to consider preventive measures. He also noted that the county has a serious drug problem that could be exacerbated with the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Staffing issues at jail
Mobley said staffing at the Grant County Jail is down to a skeleton two-man crew, and the new sergeant position will enable the sheriff’s office to run the jail with three people much of the time and maintain required standards. Grant County has contracts with several surrounding counties and the Burns Paiute Tribe to house inmates.
The county has nine to 10 corrections deputies, including part-time staff, for 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operations at the jail. But various needs put a strain on the staff, such as assigning two deputies for transportation, providing security during court sessions and booking.
Over-reliance on part-time deputies to fill those needs could lead to a union grievance, Mobley said. Skeleton staffing also poses a safety issue — if a fight breaks out, corrections staff must stay in the control room until a road deputy arrives to assist.
The new corrections sergeant position will provide a supervisor at the jail seven days a week for 12 hours, Mobley said. Commissioner Rob Raschio, in his first county court session since being appointed, expressed concern about having two equally ranked officers in charge of the same facility but voted with Myers and Commissioner Jim Hamsher in favor of creating the new position at the jail.
In other county court news, volunteers were appointed to four county boards:
• Curt and Elizabeth Shelley resigned from the College Advisory Board. Chris Cronin was appointed to fill Elizabeth Shelley’s seat, with the suggestion the new Grant School District 3 superintendent would fill Curt Shelley’s seat.
• Mary Michael and Dolores Ostberg were reappointed to the Library Advisory Board.
• Judy Kerr and Hank Lissman were reappointed to the Road Advisory Board.
• Charles Dowse was reappointed to the Senior Citizens Advisory Council. Bruce Kaufman has resigned, leaving a vacancy.
The court’s next regularly scheduled meeting is July 25.