Legislators eye raising workers' pay
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO The state is mandating Sullivan County build a new jail, costing $70-$110 million.
But an even more pressing problem was revealed at Thursday’s Personnel Committee meeting of the County Legislature.
The county can’t keep the current jail fully staffed.
“We’re losing a ton of guys continuously,” explained Committee Chair and Legislator David Sager. “It’s like a revolving door in there.”
According to a letter sent to Sager by Sheriff Michael Schiff, 28 corrections officers have left the Sheriff’s Office since 2006, and the jail is 13 officers short of the state’s required staffing level of 102.
While the 100-year-old facility has long been insufficient in officers’ eyes, they’re also faced with one of the lowest salaries starting and long-term in the region, said Sager.
The state prisons in Woodbourne, Fallsburg and Otisville offer a starting salary of $34,329, $3,000 higher than county jail officers. After a year, state prison guards’ salaries jump to $41,348.
In Orange County, salaries start above $36,000, while in Ulster County they start above $37,000, which is where a fair amount of Sullivan County’s officers trained at the county’s expense transfer to.
Sager and Schiff also indicated that those officers who are willing to deal with reduced salaries often find themselves exhausted by the mandated overtime necessary to cover the vacancies created by the lost personnel.
In fact, Sullivan County Manager David Fanslau told legislators the county Sheriff’s Office accrued $445,000 in overtime expenses since January of this year.
“We’re getting to the point where we can only push them so far,” confirmed Schiff.
“The morale there is really terrible,” added Sager.
Fellow legislators agreed it is an issue but cautioned that other county employees may be due for raises as well.
Sager said he understands that but considers the jail situation of immediate importance.
“This is a glaring issue that I committed myself to when I ran,” he said. “As we can, we’ll start to address the other inequities.”
charge Bethel Woods for Sheriff’s services?
During the Public Safety Committee meeting that day, Sager pushed for a review of the costs associated with deputies assisting the State Police in handling traffic during Bethel Woods events.
“Not that it’s not a great benefit,” he said, “but we need to share some of those costs.”
Fanslau said the Sheriff’s Office has logged about $200,000-$230,000 in overtime costs for the road patrol this year, although much of that is reimbursed by the National Park Service, the STOP-DWI Program and other state and federal agencies as it relates to their needs.
According to Undersheriff Eric Chaboty, the Sheriff’s Office spent about 325 hours this year roughly amounting to $9,700 in directing traffic at Bethel Woods.
However, deputies do the same kind of work on the taxpayer’s dime at parades and other such large gatherings throughout the county, so legislators wondered how fair charging Bethel Woods really would be.
“We tend to forget it’s not-for-profit and is economic development for the county,” remarked Legislator Jodi Goodman.
Schiff, though, worried that the state may cut back State Police staffing levels, which could require the Sheriff’s Office to increase its presence during Bethel Woods events.
Legislators pointed out that such traffic and response duties, however, are part of the Sheriff’s Office’s regular responsibilities, whether reimbursed or not.
Schiff recognized that fact but replied that legislators need to know how much of a financial impact Bethel Woods has on the office.
“It is a load and does eat up our budget,” he remarked.
Fanslau was directed to look into the matter further and see what can be done next year that would be fair to both the county and Bethel Woods.