Local government

Malheur county commissioners lukewarm on sheriff’s office overtime proposal

VALE – A plan to boost overtime compensation for some employees of the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office may not be dead yet but the idea is certainly on life support.
Lt. Rich Harriman, Malheur County Emergency Services director, developed a proposal late last year to pay double time to employees who work overtime shifts in the sheriff’s office dispatch center and jail. Currently, workers typically get paid 1.5 times their normal pay for overtime work.
Harriman sought a pact between the sheriff’s office and the county – in the form of a memorandum of understanding – and the Malheur County Court discussed the issue Jan. 18. Support for the agreement from the commissioners was lukewarm.
Harriman said he proposed the extra pay as a way to address short staffing in the jail and the dispatch center. The sheriff’s office has been recruiting new employees for both.
But for now, the agency is relying on longer shifts for its current employees to cover unfilled jobs.
“We want to give them a little extra nudge. This is a unique situation and something we’ve never experienced before,” said Harriman.
Harriman said he wants to use money in the sheriff’s office personal service fund for the double-time compensation.
Employee shortages – especially in the dispatch center – has plagued the sheriff’s office for more than a year.
“We budgeted for 11 fulltime dispatchers and we haven’t had 11 fulltime dispatchers all year. At one point we were down to three fulltime dispatchers,” said Harriman.
Harriman said the sheriff’s office cast a wide net to fill vacancies, especially in dispatch.
“We had retirees filling shifts, some who left and went to work somewhere else but came back and worked part time and administrators also worked,” said Harriman.
Harriman said he believes giving employees who pull overtime shifts in the dispatch or the jail double-time pay is the right thing to do.
Lorinda DuBois, county administrator, told the court during the Jan. 18 meeting she didn’t support the plan.
While DuBois conceded there is extra money in the personal service budget, she told the court it “was never a good practice ever to say we have extra money and that is how we should spend it and we will quit once it is done.”
“That should never be the goal. Our budget requires that we have carryover and not spend every penny,” said DuBois.
DuBois instead said a better idea would be to offer employees a bonus for the extra work.
“Go by how long some of these people have been here and who stuck it out,” said DuBois.
DuBois said sheriff’s employees are all paid overtime now.
Commissioner Ron Jacobs said he felt “like we need to do something so we don’t lose people.”
DuBois said during negotiations between the county and the sheriff’s office union, the major theme was not necessarily more money for employees.
“We were fully prepared for them to come in and ask for more money for dispatch. They didn’t want more money. They wanted time off,” said DuBois.
Dan Joyce, Malheur County judge, said in a later interview that the extra overtime proposal is still “up in the air.”
“Obviously, there is an issue there that needs to be addressed but I don’t think it (Harriman’s proposal) has been fully vetted yet,” said Joyce.
Joyce said historically the court “always goes with our budget officer.”
“So far, I don’t know that I’ve been presented with a case that would change my idea from what she (DuBois) is talking about,” said Joyce.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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