February 13, 2016

Sheriff threatens to go to court for more funds

Frank Denning

Frank Denning

Danedri Thompson
Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning warned the Johnson County Board of Commissioners that he may seek a court order for additional funding for the sheriff’s department.
Denning sent a letter dated May 21 to county commissioners after they tabled a proposal to add 20 civilian staff and 22 deputies to sheriff’s department during a May 15 meeting.
“As you are well aware, our funding and staffing requests have been largely unmet for at least six years,” Denning wrote in his letter to commissioners.
The letter was sent on the heels of a meeting in which four of seven commissioners agreed to table a request to add 42 new staff positions to the county sheriff’s office.
The county commission will finalize the 2015 budget in late August, and Commissioner Jason Osterhaus asked if delaying until budget discussions would be the end of the world.
“First of all, a six-week delay usually would not be a problem,” Denning told commissioners on May 15. “What has been a problem… I feel like I’ve been run over by a bus. We’re trying to address this issue. We got encouragement from several members of this board saying we need to move forward. Now all of a sudden, we’re going backward.”
A county audit, presented to the commission in February, revealed that the sheriff’s office has spent more than $4.75 million in overtime costs. Officials estimate the department will spend more than $3 million in overtime costs by the end of 2014.
Commissioners must also weigh the budgetary impact of the elimination of the mortgage registration tax. County Chair Ed Eilert said he was concerned that if the commission agreed to add 42 new positions without proper consideration of the mortgage tax elimination, commissioners could find themselves locked into a mill levy increase come budget time.
“What I’m trying to avoid is six weeks down the road we say uh oh, we’re looking at a mill or half mill increase to support this,” Eilert said.
Waiting until formal budgeting wasn’t the only concern of commissioners. Michael Ashcraft said the jury is still out on a future judicial program that may limit the number of people in the county jail. Ashcraft said information about the program was recently presented to some board members during a committee meeting.
“There is an initiative being developed that potentially has an impact on how we manage our detainees. It’s about to go into a study period or trial,” Aschraft said.
If the program is successful, it would limit the amount of time low-risk offenders who don’t have the resources to make bond spend in jail awaiting trial. Limiting the number of people in jail would limit the staffing needs of the sheriff’s office.
Denning said his office was very involved with a second chance program at one point.
“Locally, that was not successful,” Denning said. “…This county continues to grow by 10,000 people per year, which usually generates 200-300 clients for us.”
Right now, he said the county jail population has held relatively stead at approximately 700 inmates per day.
In his letter, Denning said the budget shortfalls, or additional overtime costs, have their roots in the reluctance of the board of commissioners and the county manager to “provide adequate budget funding in past years for the operations of my office.”
Denning’s proposal, to hire 20 civilian staff and 22 uniformed staff, would save the county approximately $460,000 annually in overtime costs. However, the county would not begin recognizing savings until new staff was hired and trained. Denning estimated that would take up to 18 months.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of other serious conversations during budget. Delaying it is just putting off this issue,” Commissioner Steve Klika said. “While I’m not sure this is the perfect solution, my inclination is to say let’s get started.”
During the May 15 meeting, Denning said he would deal with whatever decision commissioners made.
“We’re just kicking the can down the road,” Denning said. “That’s your decision and we can live with it.”
His May 21 letter suggests otherwise. In it, Denning said if the county sheriff’s office budgeting and staffing needs for fiscal years 2014 and 2014 are not met, he will file a Mandumus action, a court order, to require the funding.

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