2012-09-06 / Front Page

Issues over wages, grant to be tackled

County considers road patrol, part-time pay

MANISTIQUE – A potential grant and issues with parttime employees’ wages within the Schoolcraft County Sheriff’s Department were recently addressed by the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners. No immediate action was taken on either item.

According to Sheriff Grant Harris, the road patrol grant is administered by the Michigan State Police and funded through tickets collected by the state. The $25,000 grant would be implemented and used in 2013, he explained, but the jail committee would have to work out some kinks before the money could actually be used.

“Last year, we didn’t use it after you accepted it because we couldn’t show you how we weren’t going to have any overtime,” he said. “We can if we work together as a team to get this done.”

If an agreement can be made between jail administration and staff to ensure no one would be incurring overtime, Harris said the grant could be used to fill in holes caused by a lack of state police patrols.

“There are some of those, actually, quite regularly,” he said.

Five percent of the grant can also go toward indirect expenses such as uniform allowances and maintenance on vehicles, Harris added. Currently, the department does not have funding to conduct road patrols, he said, but can make traffic stops traveling to and from liquor inspections and civil process serving. Deputies also sometimes respond to complaints from the Negaunee regional dispatch center.

Commissioner Craig Reiter made a motion to not accept the grant, noting his apprehension that the staff could come to an agreement on hours.

“I can’t see locking these funds up if we’re not going to be able to use them,” he said.

This sentiment was echoed by Commissioner Dan LaFoille, who noted that the $25,000 would not be enough to keep a car on patrol for long.

“What we really have to do, as a county, in my opinion, is, we have to go to the people of this county and ask them, ‘What do you want?’” he said. “If they want to do it, they’ll give you a millage for it, if they don’t, they won’t.”

By accepting the grant and picking up the rest of the tab for what it doesn’t cover, LaFoille explained the county would be setting an unwanted precedent.

“The more we do as a county … the more you’re willing to take on the burden, the less the state will do for you,” he said. “The only choice you have is a millage from the people, saying, ‘Yes, we want the police protection.’ And that’s the only way we can, as a county, pay for it.”

He also noted that the county would likely have a difficult time passing such a millage, as many city residents see plenty of patrols with the city and tribal police. The outlying areas, LaFoille added, are those not seeing as many police patrols.

Commissioner Jerry Zellar said that he would like to see the county accept the grant and get more of a police presence on the roads. He also suggested the county delay a decision on accepting the grant until after the jail committee meets to discuss the overtime issue.

Harris noted the grant administrators would be willing to extend the deadline of Sept. 1 and wait until the next county meeting on Sept. 13 for a decision. The board agreed to delay voting on the grant until that time.

The board also addressed an apparent issue with the wages of part-time jail employees – an action item added just before the meeting by Reiter. According to Reiter, he had met with County Clerk Dan McKinney just before Thursday’s meeting and noted there was a $5,038.75 deficit in the part-time employees’ wage line item for the remainder of the fiscal year. He also said there was only $19,021 left in the line item for full-time employee wages.

“When Mr. (Grant) Harris stated that he went to 12-hour shifts for the jail, we would see a savings in the part-time,” he said. “In fact, we are $5,000 over budget with just $7,000 spent this month for part-time employees.”

Harris, who was present at the meeting, expressed his disappointment over Reiter’s decision to first present the issue at the meeting before contacting him. He also noted that there was a reason for the overage in the part-time wage line item.

“The fact of the matter is that there have been a lot of things that have happened in the jail that I’ve had to have part-time staff for,” Harris said.

LaFoille explained that, while the number was disturbing, he had been expecting a few problems.

“Our car is on the road constantly, and from what I’m seeing, it’s part-time employees using it,” he said. “I don’t know why the car has been so busy; I know there are things you have to do – we all know that.”

He also noted that the county is currently, in the 2013 fiscal year budget, anticipating a savings of approximately $30,000 in the part-time wages line item. If the current trend continues, LaFoille said this would be a “big problem” for the county.

The board took no action on the issue.

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