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Beltrami County Board: Sheriff's Office gets approval for staffing changes

A full-time deputy who formerly enforced boat and water safety and all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile recreation will soon be replaced by three casual, seasonal officers.

This could save Beltrami County money and would allow the full-time deputy to do more field operations, Sheriff Phil Hodapp said Tuesday at the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners meeting.

The County Board approved several staffing changes to the Sheriff's Office during the meeting.

For the last four years, Hodapp said, the department has assigned one full-time deputy to enforce water recreation in the summer, ATV activity in the spring and snowmobile trails in the winter.

This position was mostly funded by state and federal grants in the amount of roughly $46,500.

Hodapp asked the board to allow the Sheriff's Office to hire three casual deputies and pay them at the base deputy rate without benefits.

The three positions would be permanent hires but with casual status, which means they would have to sign an agreement with the deputies' union to allow them to work up to 960 hours per year, or fewer than 20 hours a week over the course of one year.

Should the grant funding disappear, Hodapp added, they could be laid off, since they would not be full-time employees or part of the union.

Hodapp said hiring three casual officers would benefit the county because it would cost the county less money and offer more patrol hours.

A full-time deputy works an average of 2,080 hours a year and can receive up to two weeks of vacation, Hodapp said. Beyond the grant money that funded the deputy position, the county contributed funding toward the deputy's benefits package. In addition, the deputy was able to proceed through the wage scale to receive pay increases every year.

The three new casual officers could work up to 2,600 hours of patrol time per year at a base rate and no benefits or vacation time.

"We can essential cover an additional 500 hours or more of patrol time over the course of the year," Hodapp said. "So we'd get more bang for our buck as far as our ability to cover patrol shifts," he said.

As extra justification for saving the county money, Hodapp spoke about one deputy position that would not be replaced.

With Sgt. Scott Winger expected to retire in early November, a deputy will be promoted to sergeant from within the ranks, Hodapp said. But the deputy position would the not be replaced.

"We think this is a much better deal for the sheriff's office, taxpayers, citizens of the county, because they are going to get better coverage of our recreational components of these grants," Hodapp said.

Hiring three casual employees also offers the Sheriff's Office more flexibility when it comes to scheduling patrols, Hodapp said.

"With a full-time deputy they're entitled to their weekends off every other weekend," Hodapp said. "So we don't have the flexibility to have them working on all the weekends."

"I think that's a wise move," said Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks.

Hodapp also ask the board to approve the Sheriff's Office hiring a part-time civilian employee to work in the records department in the Sheriff's Office.

A full-time records clerk transferred to another department this summer and the position has since not been replaced, Hodapp said.

"We have fallen quite behind in records," he said.

This part-time employee would start work in the records department and then work in the property and evidence room.

"We have sworn officers - investigators - who are spending a lot of their time processing evidence and property," Hodapp said. "Eventually, what we'd like to do is transfer those responsibilities to a civilian employee and have the investigators to do police work. (The investigators) are higher-paid members of the department."

Fairbanks asked Hodapp what impact the hiring of a part-time employee would have on the Sheriff's Office budget.

"Right now we're working one person short in records," he said. "We've saved quite a bit of salary money from the last several months because that person transferred out. We've spent no money since that person left."

Commissioner Jim Lucachick said he could foresee the part-time position becoming a full-time position, which concerned him.

"It sounds like you're saying it's a great deal right now, only 20 hours, but in a certain amount of time you're going to ask for a full-time," he said. "It kind of seems like a half-step so maybe we should see. I'm not going to argue with it, but we'll keep an eye on it."