The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

July 11, 2013

Sheriff seeks personnel increase, changes at jail

By Kim West
kwest@athensnews-courier.com

— The Sheriff’s Office requested the addition of two patrol deputies and the reclassification of four jail positions during Wednesday’s budget hearing.

Sheriff Mike Blakely presented five preliminary budgets for the Sheriff’s Office to the County Commission, which must approve Limestone’s general fund budget for the 2014 fiscal year by Oct. 1. His department has separate budgets for the courthouse, sheriff, school resource officers, work lease and Limestone County Jail.

Blakely, who was accompanied by Chief Deputy Randy King and Capt. Fred Sloss, said the two extra road deputies are needed because deputies and officers responded to 16,800 calls in 2012.

The sheriff also said more road personnel could lower the response time in a county he described as approaching 90,000 residents with “50-some square miles” of coverage area.

“Two additional deputies would help our response time because (the county population) is not as congregated as the city. We might have to send a deputy all the way from Coxey to Leggtown,” Blakely said during the budget hearing. “We get calls from everything to domestic violence, burglaries, murders and property line disputes. We made more than 3,000 arrests and went out to serve 10,000 civil papers last year.”

The cost increase for the two additional deputies would be about $86,000, according to Blakely and King.

Reclassifying positions

Blakely asked the commissioners to consider reclassifying four jail shift supervisors from sergeants to lieutenants and promoting from within to fill the four sergeant vacancies that would follow the promotions of the current sergeants.

This would give the jail a pool of eight shift supervisors, which would allow a sergeant or a lieutenant to be in charge of all shifts, rather than an employee having to serve as acting supervisor.

“The jail employees brought this to my attention because if a shift sergeant is on vacation or on sick leave, then someone on a shift has to be designated as a shift supervisor,” Blakely said. “This isn’t about them wanting more money — it’s about having the authority to supervise. It would help us a whole lot and it would be great for morale … it would help us significantly to have continuity in the operating of the jail.”

King said dealing with the public often requires an insignia-bearing supervisor, rather than a non-ranking jail employee who wears a departmental black polo shirt.

“The public is used to seeing bars or gold stripes (on the supervisors’ uniform),” King said. “People that come to the jail don’t want to talk to a ‘black shirt.’”

The sheriff and King said after the meeting the budget increase resulting from the eight promotions initially would be about $1,000 per position, with the cost gradually increasing as a newly promoted sergeant or lieutenant receives raises based on the county’s step pay raises.

A jail sergeant is classified with the same pay grade as a deputy, Blakely said. The starting hourly rate is $13.72 for a jail sergeant, and $15.29 for a jail lieutenant.

County officials said the commission could approve a final budget during the Sept. 16 regular meeting at the Clinton Street courthouse annex.