Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO May 21, 2013 Sheriff Mike Schiff showed up Thursday at the Legislature’s Executive Committee to ask legislators to restore $100,000 cut from his overtime budget.
He got half.
“This body is cognizant of public safety,” acknowledged Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson. “... The issue is we also have an obligation to the taxpayers of Sullivan County ... to keep taxes as low as we can.”
Schiff characterized the Sheriff’s Office as being “at the end of our rope.”
“We’ve been trying to get by.… The money we have left in overtime ... we’ve been giving it out with an eyedropper,” he explained. “It’s not going to carry us through.”
Schiff said he’s down 25 percent in manpower and can only send out one or two cars to patrol the county’s 1,000 square miles at any given time.
“The problems we’re seeing with burglaries and drug use are spinning a little bit out of control,” he noted.
He warned that he may have to cut the midnight shift to cover costs.
“It’s to the point now where it’s drastically going to affect public safety in the county,” he explained.
Legislators ultimately agreed to shunt $50,000 to the overtime budget, with the majority of that $45,000 coming from savings realized via a new pharmaceutical supply contract at the jail.
“As a taxpayer and homeowner, one of the biggest benefits I get ... is public safety,” acknowledged Legislator Alan Sorensen. “Now’s the time, given the uptick in criminal activity, to nip it in the bud.”
But Legislator Ira Steingart noted that routine use of overtime indicates a staffing or management issue in the office.
“I want us to start working on a long-term solution,” Steingart said.
The sheriff seemed to welcome that, asking legislators for weekly update meetings and discussions.
In the meantime, legislators also unanimously agreed to let the sheriff hire five temporary deputies to aid in the busier summertime, though for the past few years Schiff has confirmed that it’s been difficult to fill all five positions.
Care Center work will continue
Health Commissioner Randy Parker relayed good news to legislators on Thursday, saying that a conference call with state officials indicated a $1.1 million grant for renovations to the Adult Care Center will be forthcoming.
It may even be reworked to include repairs to two second-floor showers whose leaks threaten to damage the ongoing renovations in the Liberty facility.
“Eight of us were in on a conference call with the state,” Parker explained. “The answer we received was that the state has never not paid for expenses incurred in this type of grant.”
Encouraging the county to continue, the state has asked for the revised scope of work to be submitted for review and has said the completion deadline is March of next year, instead of October of this year.
“They’re going to allow a certain flexibility in the claiming process,” County Auditor Angela Chevalier told legislators. “... They see us acting in good faith.”
However, if the bathroom work is covered under the grant, its amount won’t increase beyond that $1.1 million.
“Something must come away from the project now for them to cover the showers,” Chevalier acknowledged.
What that will be has yet to be determined.