Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott

Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott

The Missoula County Sheriff's Office, which went nearly twice over its budget for administrative overtime last year, saw its request for more money for that fund turned down Tuesday by the County Commissioners.

The move came as the commissioners firmed up details for next fiscal year's preliminary budget, with a hearing on the full budget set for Thursday.

In the end, the commissioners voted to approve only the $75,521 increase for the overtime budget for patrol officers, and declined a proposal to add another $50,000 on top of that for the detective and administration divisions.

Last year, the Sheriff's Office spent more than $80,000 on overtime for administration employees  which include the undersheriff, four captains and civilian staff despite an overtime budget of only $42,500 for that division.

Meanwhile, the department's detective division didn’t spend its entire overtime budget of $44,000 last year.

Chief financial officer Andrew Czorny said the overtime requests partially reflect the fact that officers got a pay increase this year as part of a new contract. Overtime pay is one and a half times an officer's pay rate.

Undersheriff Rich Maricelli said the department knows that overtime is a “glaring issue” and has added more categories on reporting overtime to better track the causes.

“We are aware of it and we’re going to do everything we can to curb our overtime,” he said.

Without the increases to their overtime budgets, the detective division is slated to receive $42,000. Administration will receive $28,000 as part of the base budget the commissioners will consider later this week. 

However, the commissioners also approved making a department-wide $48,712 overtime boost they put in place last year at the sheriff's office as a one-time item a permanent part of the budget. Some of that likely will be allocated to the detectives or administration, Czorny said.

Maricelli said overtime for the sheriff’s administration — which includes its four captains — is down dramatically this year and is only being used in cases where it’s “strictly an absolute necessity” with overtime approval coming directly from the undersheriff.

Commissioner Cola Rowley questioned why the sheriff’s office isn’t seeing a reduction in the amount of overtime, something commissioners were told would happen last year after they approved hiring more deputies.

Capt. Rob Taylor said call volume is up and the calls have become more complex, with officers spending far more time on average dealing with each individual dispatch, arrest and subsequent report.

Commissioner Jean Curtiss said she hopes monthly meetings with the sheriff’s office will help keep the commissioners in the loop if a fund is running over its allotment. The department should ask for budget amendments midyear if they are running out of overtime money, she said, as opposed to dropping the news on the commissioners at the end of the year.

“We can’t keep doing this, ‘Wow, at the end of the year we overspent,’” she said. “We’re just trying to figure out how to wrangle in some of the arms of this big old octopus.”

The commissioners also approved an increase for the overtime budget for detention officers at the Missoula County jail, which is overseen by the sheriff's office.

Commander Jason Kowalski, who runs the jail, said last year detention officers racked up around 15,000 hours in overtime, much of which he attributed to not having a full staff. Since the start of the 2016 fiscal year, he said the jail has had an average of more than seven officer spots open at any time.

His department recently hired up to a full staff, although Kowalski said many of the new hires are still in training and won’t be ready to do normal shifts until the middle of August.

The jail divides its overtime spending into eight categories for tracking. Kowalski said some of those categories — such as training or response for larger incidents in the jail — are unlikely to go down with the new hires. But others — such as transporting inmates or covering shifts for officers who are out — will.

Last year, the commissioners approved a one-year $207,921 increase for overtime at the detention center, and chose Tuesday to make that an ongoing annual payment.

This year, the jail asked for an additional $92,272 to its overtime budget that would be a recurring annual expense. But the commissioners voted to only add $50,000 to that line item as a one-time expense, meaning it could be taken up again next year.

The detention center also received $71,000 to fund some janitorial services, and an inmate mental health therapist the commissioners voted to hire earlier in the year.

Kowalski also made a request for $125,000 to fund equipment replacement and maintenance at the jail, with that money being added to $700,000 in funding it already received from the Department of Corrections.

The commissioners seemed skeptical until they heard that the jail’s roof needs to be replaced, a process that could start as early as this year, and voted to add the money to the preliminary budget.

The sheriff’s office was also approved for $70,000 to establish a more formal replacement program for equipment, something Taylor said hasn’t been in place in the past.

The preliminary Missoula County budget hearing will be July 27 at 2 p.m. in room 151 in the courthouse annex.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for the Missoulian.

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