by Paul Darst
Harrison County officials found a way Monday to add a new deputy to the short-staffed Sheriff's Department.
During this week's meeting, county commissioners approved a plan proposed by Sheriff Jim Jack, which will use money from the home confinement budget to make a new hire.
The new deputy is badly needed to allow the department to protect Harrison County residents, Jack said.
"When I took office, we were shorthanded," Jack told commissioners. "I had two people retire immediately and I had to send two more to court."
Those two deputies now serve as bailiffs in the new circuit court division that started Jan. 1.
Additionally, two other deputies are on extended medical leave, Jack said. One of those is the home confinement officer, who has been off the job for three weeks, Jack said. That officer is not expected to return to duty, he said.
The funds that would have gone toward his salary now will be used to hire the new deputy, Jack said.
But it will not be that person who performs the home confinement duties.
Last week, the county hired the last deputy candidate on its civil service list who is already certified. That means the next one hired will have to undergo training at the State Police Academy before he or she can carry a gun and patrol alone, Jack said.
The process of getting the deputy into the academy and completing the course can take several months.
So, another deputy will take over the home confinement duties, Jack said.
The plan will help, but the department will still be short staffed, Jack said.
That means deputies will have to continue to work overtime to provide adequate protection for the county, Jack said. And the overtime budget is down about 86 percent.
"We're stuck between a rock and a hard place," he said.
Also during the meeting, commissioners approved overtime pay for deputies who worked Dec. 16, which was the day of a special school board election.
Commissioners reviewed a legal opinion from the Steptoe and Johnson law firm stating that under the West Virginia Code, deputies must be paid overtime for any special election day in the county. The code makes special election days holidays.
Commissioners asked for the opinion because they were unsure which county employees, if any, are covered under the law.
Commissioner Tom Keeley said it is unfair that only deputies get to treat special elections as holidays. But that is the way the state law is worded.
In other action, commissioners:
n Conducted an exit interview with Kenny Drain, of the state Auditor's Office. Drain had reviewed the county's books and accounts and reported he found no problems that need to be corrected.
Keeley, who has served on the commission 21 years, said this is just the third time he can remember that the audit yielded no findings.
n Heard from county resident Sam Scolapio, who urged the commission to raise the salaries of courthouse employees. Scolapio praised the hard work county workers do and told commissioners they deserve more during a cordial presentation to commissioners.
Keeley and fellow commissioners Beth Taylor and Roger Diaz agreed that salaries should be boosted, and pointed to the progress that has been made over the years.
Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.