After weeks of sparring, the Johnson County Commission and Sheriff Frank Denning may have reached a compromise on the issue of overtime pay for deputies.
Denning and his chief financial officer, Kent Brown, put a plan forward Thursday that adapts part of a recent audit recommendation to replace deputies with civilian employees. However, the positions being converted are not in dispatch, as the audit and some commissioners had wanted.
Denning and Brown discussed the idea at an afternoon work session with the commission. No action was taken, but some commissioners seemed open to consider the idea.
Overtime pay has been an ongoing problem for the sheriff’s department budget and has led to some tense exchanges between Denning and the commission.
Last year the department paid $5.1 million in overtime, requiring a cash infusion at the end of the year to make ends meet. This year, Brown said, the department is expected to need $2.8 million to $3 million more than is budgeted.
Denning has said the problem is because the commission hasn’t approved a large enough budget to staff the posts 24/7, and the overtime is needed to ensure public safety. The audit — requested by the commission last year — said overtime could be reduced at least in part by replacing sworn deputies with civilians in dispatch.
Denning has resisted that option. But at the work session, he said he could agree to replace 20 deputies now working in the jails with civilians, which was also one of the audit recommendations.
Reassigning those deputies and hiring 22 more would build a relief pool and save overtime costs, Denning and Brown said. Relief pool workers could fill in the gaps when others go for military duty, training and vacations. But they would be paid the regular wage rather than time and a half for overtime.
Hiring and training the new employees would eat into the savings, especially the first year, Brown said. He estimated the savings would be about $340,000 with those costs included.
Some commissioners said they’d be more comfortable with a guarantee that overtime would be more dramatically reduced.
“I’m still having a little bit of trouble with the savings relief,” said Commissioner Steve Klika. “My hope with 42 new positions is, we should probably cut overtime by more than half.”
Denning said that because of the startup costs it would probably be 2015 before the full savings were realized. In better economic times, the employees might have been added more gradually over several budget cycles, he said.
Cutting overtime completely would require a much bigger hiring spree, Brown said. To make overtime go away completely, 75 full-timers would need to be added for an additional $4 million to the budget, he said.
Chairman Ed Eilert said the commission could take up Denning’s proposal later.
The meeting with commissioners was cordial and low-key, with none of the verbal fireworks of past meetings. Feelings from past confrontations were still evident, though, when a couple of commissioners asked Denning to display the new Johnson County logo on sheriff’s department vehicles.
Earlier, at the commission’s regular meeting, Commissioner Jim Allen said he would vote against authorizing $305,000 to purchase new cars after being told they would not display the new sunflower logo.
The county has embarked on a branding effort with its vehicles to make its services more identifiable to residents. Since sheriff’s cars are the most visible, the logo on them would help other county departments, Allen said.
Klika brought up the subject again at the work session.
“I’m looking for some help in the whole branding issue,” Klika said.
Denning replied that the badge already on the cars is an immediately visible sign of the elected office of sheriff. Putting on the sunflower logo “fails to recognize this as being an elected office,” Denning said. “As you can tell, I’m very committed to this elected office.”
But later he said he’d agree to add the logo if he could determine the location and size, and “if it comes out of somebody else’s budget.”
“If that’s what it takes to come to the center of the aisle, I’ll do it,” he said. “And I promise it will be larger than a dime.”