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Sheriff: 60 new employees needed to ease overtime

Photo by Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough tells county officials, on Tuesday, that adding 60 employees in his office will help reduce overtime costs. The additional workers would be used to staff the county jail, he said.

Photo by Curt Yeomans Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough tells county officials, on Tuesday, that adding 60 employees in his office will help reduce overtime costs. The additional workers would be used to staff the county jail, he said.

Sheriff Kem Kimbrough told Clayton County Commissioners, this week, that he has been forced to close one of the jail’s eight housing pods, because of a lack of sheriff’s office employees. That, in turn, has caused crowding in the remaining pods, where cells are “triple-bunked.”

He added that even with the one housing pod closed, correction officers and deputies are still incurring overtime to meet the demands of running the county jail. It was a concern a year ago, when it became clear that overtime in the office would exceed its budgeted amount in fiscal year 2011. Now county officials are anticipating overtime in the current fiscal year will cause the sheriff to exceed his budget again.

This time, officials said on Tuesday, the overtime could cause the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office to go approximately $4.6 million over budget, with the money needed to make up that difference coming from the county’s General Fund.

“We’ve talked in years past about how the operations of the sheriff’s office, in the current environment — because we had not made any adjustments to staff and resources in the past — required us to staff on overtime,” Kimbrough said. “In doing so, we were incurring some additional costs. We were working our people beyond their capabilities, and that was causing us to have increased sick leave, and increased annual leave, workers comp, and the like.”

Kimbrough and County Manager Wade Starr are now making a big pitch to county commissioners, in an attempt to prevent overtime from sending the sheriff’s office over budget this year: Hire 60 new employees to help run the jail.

The breakdown of the request is: 32 corrections officers, 19 sheriff’s deputies, five investigators, and four correctional lieutenants.

“We could maintain that level of operations, by adding this staff, and not have to incur any overtime,” Kimbrough said.

Starr said the sheriff’s office is currently projected to spend $36.4 million, although it was budgeted to spend $31.8 million. He said the budget for Kimbrough’s office makes up roughly 35 percent of the county’s approximately $167 million total budget.

“We knew, at least in my judgment, that $31.8 [million] was insufficient, because we can see even in ‘09, they spent $33.3 [million],” Starr said. “So, for whatever reason, we had a budget that I thought was a little bit unrealistic, and at the same time, we needed to sit down with the sheriff and try to figure out how we could get a handle on this thing.”

The sheriff said adding the requested positions would cost the county approximately $3.5 million dollars, putting his total expenses at about $35.3 million for the current fiscal year. That was roughly the same level he and Starr said they settled on as an appropriate budget for running the office this year.

The request is being made to hire the new workers this spring, but commissioners gave little indication whether the new hires would be made as a mid-year budget adjustment, or if they would be put off, and added as part of the county’s fiscal year 2013 budget.

“It’s up to them whether or not we do this, this year, or we move forward with it for fiscal year 2013,” said Kimbrough. “I’m hopeful. I mean we have discussed a plan whereby if we make this mid-year adjustment ... I believe we will be able to hold the budget steady this year, and be able to give the commissioners a reasonable expectation of where we’re going to wind up.”

Commissioners did not give Kimbrough or Starr any public indication of whether they would approve adding the additional positions. They did, however, raise questions about how the new hires would impact staffing at the jail.

Kimbrough said three staffing studies done when the jail was built in the late 1990’s, showed the county would need to employ 250 corrections officers to fully staff the jail. He added that the Sheriff’s Office only had 105 corrections officers at the time, and “no one wanted to make that big of a jump” to 250 officers.

He said, even now, the office only has 137 corrections officers, necessitating one of the jail’s housing pods to be closed, so officers and deputies wouldn’t be spread too thinly.

“With this proposal, will you be able to use all of those [housing] pods?” Commissioner Michael Edmondson asked.

Kimbrough said he would be able to re-open the eighth housing pod, if the commission granted his staffing request. He said the additional officers would take the staff numbers to a “conservative” level of operating the facility, without having to incur overtime.