From the BCE

Printed in the Benton County Enterprise.
By Judy Kramer
The hospitality industry is suffering a shortage in staffing now that they have reopened and customers are returning. After employee layoffs during COVID, businesses are not able to get enough staff to come back to work. Staffing at the Warsaw Pool, and other businesses in the county, state and nation has also had a setback. And, the problem has hit hard at the Benton County Sheriff’s Office and Jail.
Last week, Benton County Sheriff Eric Knox revealed his concerns about staffing shortages of deputies to Face Book followers. He said that he had recently accepted the resignation of his seventh deputy and was short two more deputies due to injuries, making the Sheriff’s Office nine deputies down – half of his staff. He said there were 17 POST certified positions with three of those serving in court security, transport and administration. He asked that the people of Benton County be kind to dispatchers when law enforcement did not make it to all calls rapidly, because it is difficult to cover all 753 square miles under the present circumstances. Deputies are answering life-threatening calls first, and the remainder in order of receipt.
Sheriff Knox said that Benton County is currently the shortest staffed of the Mid-Missouri Sheriff’s Offices and the best way to remedy the issue is to increase pay. He said some of the latest resignations from skilled staff came about because of low pay and benefits. One person moved to a factory job, another left for better retirement benefits, and one young man was hired by the Missouri State Highway Patrol with a $19,000 pay raise and state benefits.
Although pay was raised to $14 an hour for jail staff and $14.81 an hour for deputies in January, Sheriff Knox said that another raise is needed to not only help hire, but also to retain more staff members after they are trained and have experience. He said that with COVID, the employee crisis, and some research he did, he realized that the current pay is still not enough.
“I have had five people tell me that if we raised the pay they would want to work as a deputy,” said Sheriff Knox. “The work takes training and skills and is dangerous, and the right people need to have enough of a salary to make it worthwhile.”
The second staffing issue, and of more immediate concern, is the shortage taking place among the all-civilian staff at the jail. Sheriff Knox said that it is becoming difficult to have the appropriate number of staff members on each shift.
“The jail needs to be treated as a business, and pay needs to be associated with the job to be done, the skills necessary and how hard it is to hire staff,” said Sheriff Knox. “$300 a day is needed to increase pay enough to help keep jail employees and entice new hires. If $300 a day was provided for raises, and vacancies could be filled, then I would feel that it was safe enough to bring in the 55 federal prisoners that are available for transfer. Many of these federal prisoners are dangerous and a full, skilled staff is necessary to handle them. The U.S. Marshall in the Missouri Western District is anxious for Benton County to take these prisoners because now that many private prisons have closed there is a great need for places to house these detainees. Federal prisoners would provide Benton County $78.50 a day each, or about $4,317.50 a day income. When $300 a day (for raises) is deducted from the federal prisoner income, a little more than $4,000 is left in revenue for the county. This income would pay for the raises.”
“We are in crisis,” said Sheriff Knox. “We have some amazing, ethical people working for us who have a second job to make ends meet. Our county averages 19,000 calls to service each year, and in the summer the population triples or expands even more because people visit the lake, plus some have moved here because of COVID. Counties around us don’t have as many calls. I pushed the new jail and stood up in front of the community to advocate it. Then, it became a team effort. One of the main reasons for the new building was to bring income into the county. There is an opportunity to bring in $1.4 million or more into the county by bringing in federal prisoners.”
Sheriff Knox said that his deputies are willing to wait for a raise until January, if the jail staff members can get raises now, and if those raises help to fill those civilian vacancies. Then, the income received from federal prisoners will provide revenue for deputies to get a raise in January. He said that one position in particular is necessary to fill as soon as possible – that is the Assistant Jail Administrator. Pay for that job is currently $16.75 an hour, and if the pay raise the Sheriff is asking for goes through, that position would pay $19 an hour. Sheriff Knox has advertised the position for $19 an hour to test his theory that pay raises will attract good people, and 51 applicants responded. Seventeen of those have bachelor’s degrees and many years of experience, seven of them are even more qualified, and three are clearly outstanding candidates for the job.
The County Commission passes a budget that runs calendar year to calendar year, and provides revenue for the jail. Its budget was passed in January that included the new raises for jail staff and deputies.
“The Sheriff had asked for the raises to be made mid-year in 2021, but we decided to budget them in January so they could have them sooner and longer,” said Steve Daleske, Presiding County Commissioner. “We funded all of the salary requests that the Sheriff asked for, but we took out a request for a $70,000 transport vehicle because we had already funded one. We also did not fund another law enforcement vehicle. They now have five or six vehicles.”
Commissioner Daleske said that Federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was given to the County on May 19, but no guidelines were with it. When interim guidelines arrived, (all 150 pages), they had contradictions, so the County Commission is waiting for the final rule before spending the money.
“The ARPA funds come in two installments, and must be spent by 2026 on infrastructure issues such as water, sewage and broadband,” said Commissioner Daleske. “We have to be careful about revenue like that because it will go away (2026) and we have to be careful how we spend it. We see the jail as a new facility and are looking at an estimated cost to run it. We need to get one year under our belt to see how it is going.”
Rick Renno, Benton County Treasurer, was asked to comment on the situation with the jail and the budget that was approved by the County Commission.
“The county is on solid financial ground now,” said Renno. “However, the Commission and public have to keep in mind that we have just built a jail with a big capacity and operating costs. We budgeted $600,000 as revenue for taking in federal prisoners. But, since we had delays due to construction, and now have a shortage of staff, we are $500,000 in shortfall for what we thought we would be getting. There are differing opinions about giving additional raises at this time. We might be going out on a limb to give them, and don’t want to get in over our heads. We have money on short term, but are concerned about the long term. There are lots of parts to the budget that we have to consider.”
A check of pay for deputies and jail staff in a few surrounding counties revealed that Henry County pays its deputies $16 an hour and Jail staff $14 an hour. Sheriff Knox said that Henry is planning to raise the pay for deputies to $18, and jail staff to $16 in January, and the county has no federal prisoners. The Morgan County Clerk reported that deputies earn $17.75 per hour, or $37,062 annually. Pettis County reported that the starting annual salary for jail staff is $35,000, and for deputies is $42,400. A July 20, 2021 post by ziprecruiter stated that the average annual salary for deputy sheriffs in Missouri is $33,045.00
Some comments from people online:
Scott Laemmli
How come Pettits county can pay so much more and Benton county A deputy should be making at least $20 an hour hell you can work at FedEx for $22 an hour driving a forklift no training you would think Benton county being a lake community would be drawn in a lot of tax revenue
Janice Grable
I say we should raise the pay.