Johnson County sheriff makes case to double recommended new hires

06/30/2014 1:53 PM

06/30/2014 1:53 PM

Discussions on how Johnson County should deal with overtime pay in the sheriff’s department continued this week, with Sheriff Frank Denning insisting that the he needs to hire 22 more deputies than the county manager’s office recommended.

During a budget meeting with the county commission Thursday, Denning said the county manager’s recommendation for 20 new civilian employees is only about half of what he needs to cut overtime costs, which have run about $3 million over budget the past year and are on schedule to do so again this year. Denning had asked the commission for the 20 civilians plus another 22 deputies. The civilians would replace deputies at the jail. Those deputies plus the other 22 would form a relief pool to prevent overtime, which is paid at a higher rate.

“The continued reliance on overtime is putting an unacceptable and dangerous strain on my staff,” Denning said. He also repeated his assertion of a few weeks ago that if the commission does not fund his request, he will take court action.

If the commission denies the request, “I’m forced to file a writ of mandamus because I need that funding to run the sheriff’s office,” according to his statutory duties, Denning said. A writ of mandamus is a court order requiring a governmental body to do what the law says it must do.

The sheriff’s office also presented an audit it commissioned from accountants BKD LLP, which said the savings from converting deputy positions to civilian jobs would be minimal — about $376,000 — and that the most savings would result from hiring more people.

Denning has said his office has been short funded and short staffed for the past few years, but that he has gone along with the situation to be cooperative during the recession. But now things have reached a critical point, he said.

“The short funding I’ve been going through the last four or five years, we’ve just lived with it,” he said, “until you have to pay the bills.”

Commissioners asked questions during the work session but did not debate whether to approve or deny the request. The meeting was one of a series with department heads on the budget. Commissioners plan to revisit funding requests for several departments before making any recommendations or changes to the county manager’s proposed budget.

Final spending figures will be set before July 15. After that, spending can be cut, but not raised.

Edgerton asphalt operation

Commissioners also looked briefly at a plan for a concrete and asphalt mixing operation near Edgerton before adding a public hearing on it to their July 3 meeting.

The request from Bettis Asphalt and Construction is for a conditional use permit for the additional plant and stockpiles to be allowed at its quarry at 20125 Sunflower Road.

Neighbors have been concerned that the plant will bring noise and odor, and damage the road, which is a main entry to Edgerton. Two adjacent property owners submitted a protest petition, but there was not enough affected land to validate it, said Paul Greeley of the county planning department.

Members of the Johnson County Park and Recreation Commission also recently discussed concerns about the plant because it’s near the Mildale Farm event center and county parkland.

Also Thursday, the commission heard some good budget news from the county mental health center Thursday. Assistant County Manager Maury Thompson, who is temporarily overseeing the center, said the department continues to run in the black, with projections that it will be $190,000 under budget by the end of the year.

Last year the agency overran its budget and needed a cash infusion from general fund reserves.

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