ELIZABETHTOWN - A 25 percent across the board cut in Essex County's overtime budget will mean that the sheriff's department will ask for more overtime before 2011 is over.
Sheriff Richard Cutting told supervisors Monday morning that he needs to keep jail staffing at its current level of 10 guards working per shift to maintain the county's certification to board inmates from elsewhere.
The county has taken in $1.3 million this year from boarding inmates from elsewhere, money that is used to pay down the bond on the 120-bed jail in Lewis the county opened in 2007. Cutting said counties are competing for boarders - Rensselaer County, for example, is expanding its jail.
"If we lose these, we're not going to get them back," Cutting said.
The board slashed overtime by 25 percent for all departments at a meeting earlier this month, saving $176,000 out of the tentative county budget.
County Manager Dan Palmer said he expects department heads, particularly Cutting and the head of the Horace Nye Nursing Home, to return to the board later in 2011 to request more overtime, saying both departments run 24-hour operations at already minimal staffing levels.
Palmer defended the cut, saying it will force department heads to be more careful with their overtime. Cutting also said toward the end of his appearance he was OK with it, as long as supervisors understood he would need more.
The sheriff's department has already spent more than $400,000 on overtime this year, according to Cutting. He said about $200,000 of this overtime comes from jail guards working 84 hours every two weeks, which is built into the current union contract.
Some of the overtime comes from using deputies to transport jail inmates to and from court appearances, which is something the state police used to do, according to Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas of Jay. The sheriff's department has done more than 500 transports this year, Cutting said.
Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava asked why a deputy can't be paid at a regular rate to work days when court appearances are expected. Cutting said there would be problems with this due to the frequency of scheduling changes with court appearances.
"Thank God private business doesn't operate the way government operates," Scozzafava said, saying businesses don't have the option of coming back for more money mid-year.
Some of his department's overtime is covered by grants, Cutting said: for example, seat belt or speeding enforcement grants. The money to cover the overtime comes from the overtime line in his budget, but the grants go into the county's general fund. Also, overtime spent transporting federal prisoners is reimbursed by the U.S. Marshals, Cutting said.
Cutting discussed some cost-saving measures he is taking now, such as encouraging employees to use fewer sick days by rewarding them with better assignments, and taking part in a program to catch inmates who are collecting unemployment insurance.
Supervisors also discussed billing inmates' insurance companies, if they have outside insurance, to cover their medical costs, something they have discussed in the past. Cutting said he had looked into this, but it wouldn't work in most cases. The boarders' medical care is covered by the jurisdiction they come from, and the large majority of the county inmates don't have private medical insurance. If they have Medicaid or Medicare, the federal government stops paying that when they're in the jail.
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