HERMANN — Gasconade County administrators hope they have headed off what has become a long-standing fiscal headache in a county government agency — the accrual of compensatory time by …
HERMANN — Gasconade County administrators hope they have headed off what has become a long-standing fiscal headache in a county government agency — the accrual of compensatory time by deputies in the Sheriff's Department.
The County Commission this year will include in Sheriff Scott Eiler’s operating budget money to pay overtime, a move that policymakers have long resisted. Commissioners would rather have employees earn comp time and use it shortly after it’s earned rather than pay overtime. However, in the case of the Sheriff’s Department — which in recent years has been operating short-handed — it’s been difficult for deputies to erase the comp time they’ve built up by working more than 40 hours a week.
The issue of overtime and comp time arose a week ago during a Commission budget work session. The discussion centered around new timesheets that were being considered for the sheriff’s agency that was based 160 hours a month, rather than the current 171 hours based on 28 days. Using 160 hours would require at least a minimal amount of overtime, the sheriff said, but there would be no comp time accrued.
Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel, R-Hermann, has long preferred not to pay overtime. “I’m an advocate of pay as you go. I think the goal is pay as you go, but in certain circumstances you can’t avoid overtime.”
But for county administrators, the key question is how much would the overtime amount to.
“It’s hard to set a number,” said Eiler.
“I think we have to have a number,” said Southern District Associate Commissioner Jerry Lairmore, R-Owensville.
Eiler and his chief deputy, Maj. Roger Armstrong, talked and came up with what was described as a “worst-case” estimate of overtime: $15,000 to $20,000. Under the proposed operating budget, the sheriff’s agency will have nine road deputies, one full-time civilian employee, Eiler and Armstrong for a total staff of 12.
County Clerk Lesa Lietzow, the county’s chief budget officer, updated Eiler’s spending plan to include the overtime money. Lietzow and her staff are putting the final touches on this year’s spending plan and final approval of the document by the Commission is set for Thursday, Jan. 28. The proposed budget became available for public inspection at the County Clerk’s Office on Monday.
But while Eiler succeeded in persuading county administrators to pay overtime to the deputies, he failed to win support for a plan to assign a deputy sheriff to the Gasconade County R-2 School District as a School Resource Officer (SRO). The city of Owensville previously assigned a member of the department as the SRO, but did away with that position. Gasconade R-2 officials reached out to Eiler about having a deputy sheriff serve as the SRO.
To sweeten the deal, R-2 officials offered to reimburse the county 75 percent of the cost of an SRO, estimated to be about $48,000 for salary and benefits. Commissioners initially were warm to the plan, but after further consideration they viewed it more critically.
“I’m concerned about the SRO,” Lairmore said during the budget work session last Wednesday morning. Lairmore said he would like to see Owensville help fund at least a portion of the cost of the position.
“I do agree that it’s the city of Owensville,” said Eiler. “I also agree that it’s a win-win for everyone to have a SRO.”
But county administrators couldn’t support providing a deputy sheriff to a school within a municipality that pulled its own officer out of the school. “I don’t think it should be a burden on the county,” said Miskel.
Meanwhile, Eiler’s proposed budget was brought under the $1-million mark with several cuts, including the number of new vehicles that will be purchased this year. Eiler initially sought four new vehicles, but the Commission balked at spending $160,000 on new cars. The panel agreed to purchase two new cars at a cost of about $80,000.
Unfortunately, some of the money that will be saved through budget cuts have wound up having to be spent after all. As Eiler explained, the work done to install new radios purchased for all 14 department vehicles was not done correctly, requiring the rewiring of all 14 vehicles at a cost of about $5,000.
On another law enforcement front, this year’s budget will contain about $66,000 for the Coroner’s Office. That includes funding for an estimated 10 autopsies, several more than are usually budgeted for in a single year. The county pays about $2,400 for reach autopsy.
Yet to be determined is who will officially serve as Coroner Jeff Arnold’s deputy coroner. Absent a formal deputy coroner, a county’s sheriff often serves in the absence of the coroner. However, Arnold said Eiler has bowed out of serving as deputy coroner.
Arnold has lobbied the commissioners for a deputy, noting that other counties in the region have a deputy coroner. “Most, all but Montgomery County, have deputies,” Arnold said at last week’s budget work session.
But Northern District Associate Commissioner Jim Holland, R-Hermann, said he was opposed to having a deputy coroner.
“What happens if I get COVID?” asked Arnold.
“Jeff, if we were flush with money, I’d say go for it,” Holland said.
Lairmore supports Arnold in his effort. “I think we have to have a deputy,” Lairmore said.
Arnold noted that state law requires a deputy coroner to have the same training as the county coroner. Arnold said he would be attending the upcoming coroner school in Cuba. The 40-hour program will cost about $2,900 and is a one-time expense.
Arnold said he recognizes the Commission is facing “sticker shock” in funding the Coroner’s Office after nearly 20 years of service by Ben Grosse, who Arnold said had his own assets that he used in performing the job. Arnold is starting from scratch, needing everything from a vehicle to transport bodies to office equipment, furniture and computer software to paying for fuel and uniforms. He told the Commission he realizes these expenses are “something you haven’t had to deal with.”
Arnold noted that his first couple weeks in office have been busy. As of last Wednesday, there have been 16 deaths in Gasconade County he has dealt with, he said. “That’s the kind of year it’s starting to be,” he said.
There were 189 deaths in the county in 2020 and Arnold is projecting 220 deaths this year.