Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sheriff wants to revamp department

Harkins, Davis could see promotions


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Gene Ramsey, Sheriff

During a county budget hearing Monday, the Blaine County Sheriff's Office announced a plan to revamp its command structure, which would require two promotions, with corresponding pay increases, but "remove a layer of bureaucracy," Sheriff Gene Ramsey said.

The revised command structure would promote Ketchum Police Chief Steve Harkins and Detention Lt. Jay Davis to the rank of captain. The promotions would allow these managers to report directly to Deputy Sheriff Ed Fuller, rather than to Patrol Captain Curtis Miller, who reports to Fuller.

"You put too many layers of management in there, and it gets clouded. I just want to streamline," Ramsey said.

Ramsey added that the job descriptions for Harkins and Davis would be updated to reflect the increasing complexity of their workloads. While the number of crimes has not gone up, Ramsey said, the cases being handled are becoming more complex and are therefore more time-consuming. As a result, Davis and Harkins have already been working at the captain level, Ramsey said.

"It's really not about money," Ramsey said, even though Harkins and Davis would receive a pay bump. "It's about responsibilities and job duties."

But county commissioners said they were reluctant to support the restructure.

"I don't understand the need for a change in rank," said Commissioner Angenie McCleary.

Commissioner Larry Schoen said he worried about the impact of the pay bump on the morale of other Sheriff's Office employees.

"I guess I would ask your opinion about raising the chief's salary when all of the other salaries remain unchanged," Schoen asked Harkins during the hearing.

Harkins said he didn't see the promotions becoming a problem.

"This is something I didn't ask for. If I thought this would be a morale issue, I wouldn't support it," Harkins said.

He added that some of his subordinate officers make almost as much as he does due to the length of their tenure with the department.

Davis said he would appreciate the promotion, but it's not about the salary bump for him.

"I really appreciate the confidence my sheriff has in me, but I have a lot of people who work very, very hard for me," he said. "If I wanted to make money, I'd go into IT."

One benefit to the promotions is that Harkins and Davis would switch from hourly pay to salaries, which Harkins said would cut back on overtime budgets. But the main benefit, Fuller said, is simply efficiency.

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"It's a better way to have our staff report to Gene and me," Fuller said.

County Administrator Derek Voss said the increased streamlining added value that outweighed the increase in salaries.

"This is a good, right, smart thing to do," Voss said. "Money's tight and I'm a little nervous about every penny that could be spent, but this isn't about that at all. "

Other requests

Two new positions in the jail were also proposed. Davis said were meant in increase security.

"It's part of the plan to get people on the floor," he said.

Currently, there is only one officer on the floor during the graveyard shifts from 3 a.m. until 6 a.m. If there is an incident, Davis said, the officer would have to wait for another officer to come back him or her up from the control room.

Commissioner Tom Bowman said he wasn't sure the new positions were justified with the current level of inmates and the state of the county budget.

"We can't print the money for new positions," he said. "We're going to have to look really hard at how we're going to deal with that."

Davis admitted that the revenue from housing out-of-county residents, which was meant to fund the new positions, is down roughly 25 percent. However, he said he still needs the officers.

"It's a matter of what you think about revenue versus operating safely," Davis said.

Miller requested $17,000 for a new evidence-tracking system. The current system works well enough, Miller said, but it "doesn't step up to what we really need." Miller said a new system would save time and make the department more efficient.

Other requests included $42,000 for a new Ketchum vehicle, $90,000 for three new vehicles for the Sheriff's Office and a slight increase in funding for its crime prevention program.

Harkins said he requested a cost-of-living increase in salaries from the Ketchum City Council, but would not request a similar raise from the county.

Though the commissioners expressed reluctance to raise budgets, no decisions will be made until the preliminary budget is set in August.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com

Assessor's Office to change as well

Restructuring was the name of the game on Monday as County Assessor Valdi Pace announced her intention not to fill a vacant appraisal position in her office for next year.

"Hiring new staff is costly," Pace said.

With the drop in new construction, Pace said, her appraisers' workloads have decreased substantially.

"I'll say it flat-out. I don't think they are filling their 8.75 hours [per workday]," Pace said. "I can see adding more workload to them."

Pace added that some of her appraisers have more work than others, and so she will divide the workload differently among her remaining appraisers.

Remaining staff would also receive a pay increase to make up for the increase in duties and responsibilities. Commissioners said they supported eliminating the vacant position, but were reluctant to support the pay increases.




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