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2/2/2006

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will sheriff have to make any cuts?
One month into new budget year, he still has same number of employees and has given 2.5% raises

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

Will the sheriff have to reduce his staff due to budget cuts in 2006? The answer to that depends on whom you talk to at the Platte County Administration Building.

Sheriff Dick Anderson has gone very public with his dismay over the new budget. He has spoken out in open session of county commission meetings. He has even taken his case to the Kansas City media, doing a TV interview with Channel 9 on the topic last week.

What can't be disputed is that in order to make expenses balance with projected revenues, Platte County Commissioners have tightened the overall county budget this year, making cuts in salary lines that they say affected around 13 positions at the county. The intent was that some positions would be eliminated completely, including eight spots at the sheriff's department, commissioners indicated.

The sheriff claims the budget adjustments run deeper than that. He has publicly said he'll have to reduce his staff by 11 positions. But based on payroll information on record with the county's human resources department obtained by The Landmark this week, it appears the sheriffs department would be able to operate at its existing staffing level throughout 2006.

One month into the new year, the sheriff has yet to make any reductions in staff and in fact has authorized salary increases across the board for his department's 121 employees. Neither fact is an indication the sheriff's department is feeling the crunch from a tightened 2006 budget, giving credence to the commissioners' belief there was plenty of fat in the sheriff's budget in 2005.

"The facts speak for themselves. When I call human resources and they tell me the sheriff's department has had no layoffs. . . ," commissioner Jim Plunkett said this week.

"We're one month into 12, and he still has the same number of staff members as he had the first day of the year," Plunkett added.

According to payroll records, the sheriff's department topped out at 121 employees in 2005. Currently, the department still has 121 employees on the payroll.

Putting a dollar figure on the situation, the sheriff's department payroll for the month of January was $327,818. Multiply that dollar amount by 12 months for the entire year, and the sheriff's projected payroll for 2006 would come to $3,933,816, which would still have him coming in under the $4,072,275 the commission has allotted him for salaries in 2006.

That's with no layoffs and with the 2.5% salary increase given across the board to department employees.

Anderson argues that it's important to understand the $4,072,275 earmarked for sheriff's department salaries is "not a goal, it's a ceiling.”

"When you have a cap, you have to manage from that number downward. It's a ceiling. If we spend 99.9% of that money, that's great. If we spend 100.1%, it's a failure," the sheriff said.

The sheriff said it's his goal to spend from 98% to 100% of the money in his salary budget each year. In 2005, the department spent 97% of its budgeted salaries, he said.

Much of the confusion over the extent of budget reduction stems from a disagreement over what can be considered a "cut" in staffing. In 2005, the sheriff's department was authorized salary amounts to cover 128 employees. But its staffing topped out at 121. This resulted in anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000 in budgeted salaries for the department going unused in 2005.

The commissioners noticed the excess funding and made efforts to cut it back in the tightened 2006 budget.

"I think we can get a little bit leaner than that," Presiding Commissioner Betty Knight told The Landmark this is week. "We can budget a little bit better than that.”

Knight said the commission targeted administrative and security areas for cutbacks in the sheriff's department to ensure "we have all the public safety we can muster."
"We left the investigations and patrol (salary lines) alone," she emphasized. "It was a way we could get the sheriff's department budget to where it wasn't bloated at all. And it's kind of playing out that way," she added, pointing to the fact the sheriff so far still has the same number of employees he had under the previous budget.

Plunkett agreed with Knight.

"The sheriff is looking for people to quit. He has said the cuts will come through 'attrition.' That hasn't happened yet, either," the second district commissioner pointed out.

Anderson says the commissioners aren't interpreting the allocation of monies correctly. Some of his money for salaries comes from grants dedicated for specific purposes.

"Some of that money is restricted as far as who it can be used for. Their management of those numbers is not accurate," the sheriff said of the commissioners. "There are fallacies in the way they are trying to manage those numbers.”

Anderson points out his department currently has three people on military leave who will be returning. He claims his department has lost three people since Dec. 20 "and won't replace those people." But upon additional questioning from The Landmark, the human resources department insists the sheriff currently has 121 employees, the same number as were on his payroll in December.

The sheriff indicated his department "has four more losses to go" to get down to what he views as the top number of employees he'll be able to comfortably carry on the payroll in 2006.

"I don't think the shortfall can be accommodated by reducing staff by eight (as indicated by the commission) but instead by 11. I agree that two position cuts should come from security services," Anderson said.

That's why he has chosen to eliminate the security checkpoint at the front entrance to the county administration building. Anderson has said he'll eliminate that security checkpoint this Friday. It's a move that at least one commissioner sees as retaliation for budget cuts.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the sheriff removing the security detail was a vindictive move on his part," Plunkett told The Landmark this week, emphasizing that the sheriff made the decision despite the fact he still has the same number of employees.

Anderson denies there is anything personal related to the decision to end the security checkpoint.

"He is simply wrong about that. It's a requirement to meet the operations of the department. It's not accurate at all to say that. I think he is way off base," the sheriff said late Tuesday. "I'm disappointed he feels that way. He has not indicated that to me at all.”

Both Knight and Plunkett indicate they doubt the county will hire a private firm to operate the security checkpoint at the entrance to the administration building, and instead will likely leave it unmanned, at least for the foreseeable future.

"Having checked with human resources and seeing the sheriff has not eliminated anybody, it just kind of amazes me this checkpoint is being shut down," Knight remarked.

"For a lot of years there was not a checkpoint there. I think officeholders feel like we'll be fine if we have that unmanned there. Many taxpayers feel like it's something they don't like to go through anyway," she said.

The checkpoint includes metal detectors through which members of the public must walk, similar to the arrangement at airports.

Anderson says the budget cut mandated his decision to end the checkpoint. He said the new budget forces a cut in staff in the security services line item.

"That leaves seven in that unit. With five courtrooms and the front door of the courthouse to secure, there is nobody left to guard the door at the administration building. My goal is to absorb staff reductions in a way that has the least impact on law enforcement in Platte County. We simply don't have the resources to man that position and do everything else the sheriff's department needs to do.”

The sheriff said he doesn't see that administration building checkpoint detail as critical.

"It's a desirable position but I don't think it's a mandatory position," he remarked.

He said two checkpoint officers will be reassigned to other duties.

The sheriff defended authorizing the 2.5% pay raise for all employees by saying he hopes it will prevent deputies from leaving his department to go to higher-paying agencies. He says his department has the lowest starting wage for officers of any comparable department in the area.

"Secondly, if everybody else in the county except the sheriff's department gets a 2.5% raise, it creates a morale issue to contend with," he said.

 
 

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