The County Commission discussed the need to cut back on overtime in the sheriff’s department at its meeting Wednesday. Sheriff Scott Walls was not at the meeting, but he said afterwards the overtime is all related to the staffing problem in the jail.

“We are 15 employees short in the jail,” Walls said. “I have asked repeatedly that the pay issue in the jail be addressed. The County Commission shot down a pay study last month.”

According to the budget, Commission officials said, the sheriff’s department has a budget of $90,000 for overtime pay. Only two pay periods into the new fiscal year, the sheriff's department has already used 21.4 percent of this amount. This totals $19,289.

The Commission realizes that overtime is important especially in the sheriff's department, but the amount will have no needed funds if there is the need closer to the end of the budget year, officials said. The need for overtime in the jail is understandable, but the Commission wants more details on the reason for so much overtime.

Walls said after the meeting that he has had to call in road deputies to work in the jail because he is so shorthanded there.

Chairman James Hutcheson is concerned and asked Attorney Clint Maze if there was a way to discuss what is happening. Maze said that there was little that could be done, but they could bring it to the sheriff's department’s attention in a letter.

District 1 Commissioner Bill Strickland was once in law enforcement and he made reference that sometimes overtime is required, but they had to justify how the money is spent. He would like to see documentation to show how come that much has already been spent from their budget.

He mentioned that the jail is understandable on overtime because of them being short staffed, but the amount does not yield a few employees receiving the overtime pay. He stated that when the road crew has that much overtime that their hours have to be annotated before the money is approved. He would like to see that done in the sheriff’s department.

“The Commission can cut the budget to zero for the sheriff’s office if they want,” Walls said after the meeting. “But they have a legal obligation to fund the jail. When you take away someone’s liberty, you have to take care of them.”

He said the county could get into trouble with federal authorities if it doesn’t do something about the staffing in the jail.

“It is a federal obligation for you to take care of people when you have them in a jail,” Walls said.

He said comments had also been made about the sheriff’s office ordering $34,000 worth of toilet paper.

“We have always bought supplies for the jail in bulk for the year when we bought and kept it in the warehouse,” he said. “But if they don’t want us to do that, we will buy just enough to get by. But you can’t do that with the staffing of the jail. You have to staff the jail.”

The sheriff has been saying for several months that low pay for jailers makes it almost impossible to keep the jail fully staffed.

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