Guest Column: Sheriff Meyers replies to allegations against Sheriff’s Department by former employee

Response to e-mail dated Oct. 24, 2010

By Sheriff Richard A. Meyers

Tough times require tough decisions. When a citizen loses their job or has their pay cut, they can’t run to media sources, they tighten their belt and survive as best they can. It’s a lesson government should learn from. Yes, we have had to cut budgets in critical areas, but we have done so responsibly.

Since 2009, this agency has cut more than $5 million from our operating budget. In doing so, we worked with the county board to set priorities in three specific critical areas: deputies in squad cars, corrections officers in the jail and telecommunicators in the communications center. Cuts targeted for these areas were given the highest priority, and wherever we could cut dollars elsewhere, we used those dollars to limit the adverse impact on the above three critical areas.

The communications center has had no one laid off because of budget cuts. On Oct. 1, 2008, we were directed to cut $115,000 from the communications center. Again, on March 2, 2009, an additional cut of $129,000 was ordered. We accomplished these cuts without any layoffs. We concentrated on reducing overtime, and we had one person quit who moved out of state. Additional dollars targeted for cut from the communications center were spread throughout other lesser priority functions within the sheriff’s department. Fiscal year 2010 required a cut for $266,000 plus. That was accomplished without layoffs. One telecommunicator went on worker’s compensation, but that telecommunicator was assigned to fire service and not in the dispatch rotation. Again, we held the line on overtime, and we had some adjustments in insurance from family to single coverage. One employee quit for other business opportunities, so that position was held open, and all additional dollars targeted for the communications center were absorbed in other non-priority accounts.

Fiscal year 2010-2011was targeted to cut an additional $289,000. The worker’s comp position is still vacant, and the cost reductions sent to other non-priority budgets last year continued this year in the communications center in line with our high-priority placed on the communications center staffing. I have had detailed conversations with County Board Chairman Christiansen on the priority of the communications center and have been told to hold on any staff reductions. He was looking at diverting dollars from other sources to again, like the previous two years, adhere to the high priority of communications. In addition, keeping with our practice of cutting top down, the deputy chief position in communications will be eliminated right after the first of the year. It will be downgraded to a civilian position.

Three months ago, the county board chairman and I spent two days meeting with communication center staff. Their biggest concern was a modified work schedule. They presented a sample schedule that required 18 telecommunicators, and that is what we are working on implementing. We have currently had four people turn in their resignations, not because of budget cuts, but one was for personal reasons, another had family issues, another was retiring and moving to Florida, and the fourth simply retired. We have been authorized to fill those positions and have tested with county human resources more than 125 applicants and are beginning the applicant review process. The City of Rockford communications center is going through the same issues as we are, and I have had conversations with Chief Bergsten on timing a training class for both agencies once we hire. We are currently working on getting an emergency medical dispatch class for telecommunicators once we are able to get people hired. In addition, for long-term efficiency purposes, we approached the union and have agreement from AFSCME to build six additional part-time positions in our scheduled rotation, which will actually give us more people than we have ever had in the communications center. In addition, the union has consented to us bringing on up to 15 people on a standby list that we can give training to that may want to fill in for vacation replacement and telecommunicators on family medical leave.

The highest priority has been placed on communications, deputies in squad cars and corrections officers in the jail. It is a process that we intend to continue. Regardless of our budget, calls for service will continue to happen that will have to be answered in the communications center; we will have to have patrol cars to respond and corrections officers to book inmates into the jail. Last year, in order to help avoid cuts in our three critical areas; the county board gave us some dollars back to be placed in the critical areas. By cooperation with the county board, we will meet our demands for service while at the same time adhering to budget requirements. The taxpayers expect us to live within our budget as they do.

From the Oct. 27-Nov. 2, 2010 issue

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