Wed, May 22

Supervisors furious over sheriff's overspending on overtime

The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors butted heads with Sheriff Buck Buchanan Monday, calling him into a meeting to explain why he has grossly exceeded his budget for overtime pay.

The supervisors allocated $76,000 for the Sheriff's Office to pay its officers for overtime duty, but the office already has spent $185,102 during the first five months of the budget year that began in July.

That's more than the overtime budget of $136,600 for all the county departments combined.

While the Sheriff’s Office has a federal grant to cover $65,387 in overtime costs, the office still is $109,102 over budget already.

"That's going to take all our contingency fund if you continue on this collision course," said Supervisor Gheral Brownlow, who worried that the county will need most of that $800,000 rainy-day fund just to cover anticipated revenue-sharing cuts from a money-strapped state government.

"There isn't going to be money to bail you out at the end of the year," Board of Supervisors Chair Lorna Street said, warning that the Sheriff's Office could find itself without new vehicles, clothing allowances and travel opportunities next year.

Buchanan said that would just lead to more people quitting their jobs, a problem he said already is causing a critical employee shortage because the county doesn't pay officers high enough salaries.

Unlike previous years, he can't cover the overtime costs with savings from vacant positions, Buchanan said.

"What you're seeing is the tip of the iceberg on an issue that I've talked to you about numerous times," Buchanan said. "The situation is just going to get worse" unless salaries become more competitive with Arizona's municipalities.

Ever-increasing numbers of county residents, calls for help, danger levels and employee shortages are driving the need for overtime, Buchanan said.

Street repeatedly asked Buchanan how he was going to help the situation. He replied that he tries every day to keep overtime costs down, but citizens continue to call the office for help 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"The money is not there for the overtime being paid," County Administrator Jim Holst said. "We're not hearing any indication it's going to slow down or stop."

The supervisors agreed with Holst that they didn't feel like they heard any good answers.

"I don't want this to be a fight," Street said. "But if it turns out to be, then I can dig my heels in with the best of them."

Brownlow said the county might have to drop its ceiling on the number of hours employees can accrue as vacation time instead of overtime.

"Is there a point where the board takes over the Sheriff's Office budget?" Supervisor Chip Davis asked.

Board Attorney Dave Hunt said he is researching state law, but it doesn't give much guidance on what a county Board of Supervisors can do if a department goes over budget.

Holst said the Human Resources Department is gathering new information about salaries of the county's market competitors, and then the supervisors can talk broadly about salary issues countywide.