Sheriff: Staffing shortage caused by low wages, high out-of-pocket benefits cost
By Brandi Makuski
While full service is still available at the records department of the Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office- it continues to remain open only during reduced hours thanks to a staffing shortage.
The reduction in service hours was announced in early October.
According to an Oct. 4 press release from the Sheriff’s Office, the front counter of its records department will only be open to the public from 10 AM to 2 PM Monday- Friday until further notice.
The counter had previously been open during the entire regular work day and provided the public with accident reports, background checks and service for papers- including subpoenas and restraining orders- but that’s just a brief summary of what the department’s records specialists actually do.
“There’s so much they do; they file requests for charges, incident reports, they get documents ready for court and the DA’s Office, open records requests- I could go on all day,” Sheriff Mike Lukas said.
Karen Moran, office manager for the records department, couldn’t say how many members of the public were typically served at the window daily, but said the stream of citizens was “constant”.
“We just haven’t been able to keep up with everything because we’re down to two [record] specialists- one of whom is in training,” Moran said. The office had previously been staffed with three records specialists, one lead records specialist and a bookkeeper.
“We also lost our bookkeeping position this year, so that means I’m also doing bookkeeping work in addition to my normal duties,” Moran added.
The County Board eliminated the bookkeeping position in the Sheriff’s Office earlier this year, moving the job over to the county’s finance department for the sake of efficiency, Lukas said, but that position is still vacant.
Lukas and Moran both say the staffing shortage has put additional strain on existing staff, and while it doesn’t affect dispatch or deputy patrols and availability, it means extra work for employees who they suspect are already paid less than their counterparts in other cities.
“We process reports for not only 48 deputies but all the corrections officers who are writing incident reports,” Moran said. “There’s 103 people in our department who we process paperwork for.”
Moran said she anticipates additional overtime costs for the staff already in place as they work to keep up with records requests from the public.
Chief Deputy Dan Kontos on Tuesday said even after three weeks, there’s been no change in the hours of availability, and he doesn’t anticipate a change until after the New Year.
“Depending on how things go, after the first of the year we may actually get our missing position restored,” Kontos said, referring to the vacant lead records specialist vacancy. Along with the new records specialist still in training, he said a third specialist is due to start training in November.
Lukas said his department has lost several employees in recent years due to stagnant wages and rising out-of-pocket costs for insurance coverage. Lukas also claims contrary to information provided to the County Board in September, the county has several options for insurance plans it hasn’t yet considered. A county-wide wage study is currently underway, and further study into insurance options will be considered for 2017.
Moran’s worried the changes won’t come soon enough.
“As you’re looking at the wages and benefits, [consider] recruitment and retention,” Moran said. “Both of the records specialists we lost had a lot of experience. I had one records specialist with ten years’ experience just leave due to the wage issue; the other one had been here seven years. As [County Board supervisors] are looking at changing some of these benefits and costs, they have to look at wages to retain and recruit. I hate to see 17 years of experience walk out the door.”
Lukas has stepped forward in defense of employees who say they won’t be able to afford the increased insurance costs for long.
|Family Plan Deductible||Family Plan Co-Pays||Family Plan Premium|
|2014 Plan||$200||$5-$10||$80 per paycheck|
|Approved 2016 Plan||$3,000||$30-$50||$125 per paycheck|
“Something’s not working,” Lukas told the County Board in September. “That’s a 600 percent increase in two years. I reached out to all 72 sheriffs [in the state]; I reached out to all local and state municipalities. I see numerous plans that are way better than what we have.”