Sheriff Breshears has had many challenges in his first two weeks in office. As he took office he was already faced with a department poised to hire four new officers to fill vacancies left by officers who had left to pursue higher pay, to replace his position, and to evaluate potential replacements for an officer on leave. He had stated in his campaign that his goal was to persuade the county council to raise the pay for officers to try to head off the turnover problem faced by the department.
At the end of the first week his challenge had changed. Breshears learned that the county council had eliminated one deputy position in the budget process. “The budget process was difficult,” reported Tina Kelley, chairman of the county council. She continued, “The grant officer [an officer whose salary is being paid from a grant to the county] had boosted the department by one deputy. It was a tough decision, but we had to make it to balance the budget.”
This week Breshears learned that the city council was renegotiating their contract with the county to reduce one officer and that they were not going to renew the contract which ended on December 31, 2010 to pay for a portion of the School Resource officer.
Suddenly Breshears was faced with the potential reduction of three officers, including a particularly critical position in the school resource officer. Regarding the school resource officer Breshears commented, “Our daytime duty car would spend much of there time at the schools anyway [if the school resource officer was eliminated]…It would be detrimental not just to the schools, but to the community as a whole not to have them there.”
The school board agreed with the need and authorized Superintendent Adams to pay for the city’s portion of the officer for the remainder of the school year. Chairman Kelley indicated that the sheriff’s office, the school district and the county council would be meeting on Monday to determine how to fund this position long term.
The city council is faced with a significant gap between their revenues and their expenses and is working to reduce expenses. Two of the areas they targeted were the reduction of the dedicated police force for the city and their participation in paying for the school resource officer. Mayor Egbert said that the city had been pleased with the service from the Sheriff’s office and the decision was completely driven by the financial challenges of the city. He also commented that the city’s participation in paying for the school resource officer had been in discussion for some time and that in many other counties in the state the school district completely funds school resource officers.
Breshears said that his priorities had now changed. “Before I took office [my priority] was to get higher pay for our deputies…right now my priority is to protect the spots I have; protect the deputies so that I don’t have to lay anybody off.” He will continue to pursue higher pay, but feels that keeping the department staffed has a higher priority at this time.
Breshears has recently hired two officers that he feels will be a good addition to the department and the community. Joe Rohbak and Kyley Slater. Rohbak is from St George and is new to law enforcement. He was attending school in law enforcement when the opportunity came to serve in Morgan. He and his family have relocated from St George to Morgan and Breshears feels that he will be a great addition to the Sheriff’s office.
Slater is the son of the retiring Weber County Sheriff. He has worked in dispatch for a number of years and has recently been working part time in law enforcement for Pleasantview and Harrisville. Breshears also feels that Slater will be a great addition.
Morgan County, because of the pay rates of the officers, has become a training ground for other law enforcement agencies in the surrounding area. Breshears indicated that the last officer the department lost went to work in Riverdale for $2.00 per hour more with a possibility to have another $2.00 increase within a year.
Each of the members of the sheriff’s department will now feel a greater load with the department down by two deputies. Breshears is continuing his focus on community policing and is training the new deputies to be more visible and engaged in the community. He commented that the department will have to be more creative with scheduling, but feels confident that the needs of the county can be met. He says, “We are still going to be there serving and protecting…services as normal.”
The County faced difficult decisions in the budgeting process in a number of areas. In some parts of the budget they were able to minimize the impact by using funds that can only be used for specific purposes. The impact fees for new homes can only be used for parks and the restaurant taxes can be used for the fairgrounds. There is no designated fund that can be used for the Sheriff’s department, however.
The county reduced staff in other areas as well. They did not fill one position from a retirement, and are considering not filling a second position made vacant from retirement, reported Chairman Kelley.
Breshears will be working with the council in the coming months to find ways to ensure he has the staff he needs to have a reasonable workload for his deputies. He will also be working to convince the council to find the money for pay raises to be able to keep the good officers once they have experience and have opportunities elsewhere.