By RORYE O’CONNOR
MT. VERNON — —
The Jefferson County Board voted to reduce the number of deputies in the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office by four on Monday.
The action was taken as a part of an effort to reduce the county budget by about $3 million at least temporarily due to the loss of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees being housed at the Jefferson County Justice Center.
Before the action was taken, the sheriff’s office held 22 deputies, said Jefferson County Sheriff Roger Mulch.
Board Chairman Robert White said per state statute, the board is required to set the number of deputies at the sheriff’s office.
The vote approved by the board was an amended motion made by board member Randy Edwards after discussion with the sheriff and Sheriff’s Maj. Scott Burge. The original motion had been to reduce the number of deputies at the sheriff’s office by six.
“This is fiscal realities,” White said. “I want to make that very clear. Due to the current structure that we’re dealing with, there’s 45-day (layoff) notices. If it’s reversed, we will ultimately get this reversed as well. For the interim, we have to make a decision.”
Mulch opposed taking official action to reduce the number of deputies, saying he had already made budget arrangements to reduce his number of deputies by four.
“Two and a half million dollars out of my budget is a big, big whack,” Mulch said. “And rightly so, it has to be, because we take up most of the budget, so we have worked diligently on our budget, and we have given the layoff notices for ... 32 spots, (four) of those being deputies. Don’t ask me to take another. Don’t ask me to take another $50,000, $60,000 out of my budget. We’ve already done the layoff notices for $2.5 million. Do not decrease my deputies on paper, because it takes an official act of the board to get them back.”
White said the board action could serve as extra pressure to resolve the issues.
“This is easily undone,” he said. “I don’t think anybody here would have a problem as soon as we resolve this budgeting issue to bring back all six.”
Board Vice Chairman Don Rector asked Mulch if he was assuring the media and voters that he was doing everything he could to try to get the medical issues with ICE resolved, and Mulch said he was.
Burge told the board if they reduced the deputies, overtime costs will go up.
Mulch reminded the board that deputies must respond to calls.
“I am not going to let this county risk its safety,” he said. “We’ve got to respond to emergency calls.”
White asked for an amended motion, to reduce the deputies by four. He said this reduction should include coverage to prevent overtime issues, but Mulch said he didn’t think it would prevent overtime issues. Edwards made the motion, which board member Wayne Hicks seconded.
“We are hoping this is very temporary,” White said. “They may not even feel it, because again, these reductions can’t take place immediately per our contract with the unions, because they get a 45-day notice. At the end of 45 days, it will, in fact, become permanent. But by then, we should know what our clear path is.”