Dozens of new deputies who will start work at the Erie County jails during the next two years are expected to ease chronic overtime problems, but Sheriff Timothy B. Howard told county lawmakers Wednesday that it will take time.
One of the problems, Howard said, is that veteran jail staff members continue to leave as new deputies go through a lengthy training program to start work, making it impossible on many days to fully fill all of the staffing posts required by the state without overtime.
“The largest part of our overtime is simply a result of not having hired enough people to staff all the posts that we’re all in agreement actually exist,” Howard said.
County legislators Wednesday expressed skepticism that the Sheriff’s Jail Division can stay within the $8.1 million budgeted for overtime next year, when actual spending in recent years has been more than $11 million.
“How can I believe this $8.1 million line for overtime?” Legislator Timothy R. Hogues, a Buffalo Democrat who is chairman of the Legislature’s Finance, Management and Budget Committee, asked Howard. “How am I to give that any credence?”
The State Commission on Correction earlier this year gave Erie County until September 2014 to create 72 new jail deputy and supervisor jobs to ensure that the Erie County Holding Center in Buffalo and the Correctional Facility in Alden are adequately staffed. But the Sheriff’s Office will actually have to hire many more deputies than that to fill positions left empty by retirements and people who have left for different jobs.
For example, Howard said, 27 staff members have left during the time in which about 30 new recruits went through the most recent training academy.
To address the problem, the Sheriff’s Office will conduct three academies in 2013 for the first time in years with the hope of training as many as 90 to 100 new jail officers next year.
“I think the more men and women we can get in uniform on the lines, the more overtime we’re going to be able to save,” Undersheriff Mark N. Wipperman told legislators.
Overtime has been flagged as a problem at the jails for several years as the expense line has remained above budget and some deputies have been forced to work 16-hour shifts for days in a row. But curbing that expense could take more than just adding new employees, the state-appointed county control board warned in its analysis of the proposed 2013 county budget.
“Adding staffing, without directed, consistent overtime management, will not reduce this expense,” the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority budget analysis stated.
Earlier on Wednesday, County Clerk Chris Jacobs told legislators he is concerned about a plan to cut overtime in the Registrar’s Division in half to $7,500 at the same time that County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz turned down his request for two more employees in the division, which records land transactions and other documents. The Clerk’s Office this year has been working through a backlog of thousands of documents in that division, and Jacobs said the cut to the overtime line would limit his ability to deal with the potential for spikes in real estate transactions next year.