BY LOHR McKINSTRY
---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Hiring two entry-level correction officers instead of replacing a retiring lieutenant is expected to save Essex County Jail 687 hours of overtime over six months.
Annual salary and benefits for County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Thomas Cross totaled $108,768, Sheriff Richard Cutting told the County Board of Supervisors at a recent meeting.
Replacing his position with two new correction officers would cost $114,256, which is $5,488 more than Cross makes, Cutting said, but comes with a potential six-month savings of $18,336 for 687 hours of overtime.
The new officers would reduce understaffing at the jail that otherwise requires overtime to cover, he said.
HIRING FROM TESTS
Cutting appeared before county lawmakers to present his plan, and it was ultimately approved, 16-1, with Supervisor Daniel Connell (D-Westport) opposed and Supervisor George Canon (R-Newcomb) absent.
The new correction officers will be hired provisionally from a list of 70 applicants who took the State Civil Service test for the job, Cutting said. Results of that test are expected eight to 10 weeks from the April test date.
“We don’t have anybody lined up for these,” he said.
The new officers will each receive a salary of $33,258 a year plus benefits.
Cross, who has been with the Sheriff’s Department for 28 years, will become a part-time security guard at the Essex County Department of Social Services following his retirement.
WILLING TO WORK
Although most supervisors voted for Cutting’s request, it at first appeared controversial, with some questioning why it bypassed the county’s Public Safety Committee and others asking why Cross worked so much overtime himself: 390 hours in the last six months.
“That bothers me a little bit,” Supervisor Roby Politi (R-North Elba) said. “He (Cross) got paid over two hours a day in overtime, which to me seems excessive. You’re building that number into this analysis.”
Cutting said they’ve tried to make a policy change to correct that situation.
“He (Cross) was always willing to take overtime,” the sheriff said. “As a lieutenant, he was working some shifts as coverage for other shift supervisors. He was willing to work (overtime) rather than forcing people to work.”
DUTIES DIVVIED UP
Cross’s duties as jail supervisor will now be divided among the sergeants at the correctional facility, Cutting said.
“Every year at budget time, we talk about cutting positions in various departments, and no one can cut a position in a department,” Politi said. “Now all of sudden we have a guy retire, and we don’t need that position. That seems to contradict the whole budget process.”
The sheriff’s request did go before the County Budget Subcommittee, chaired by Supervisor David Blades (R-Lewis), and was OK’d.
“I personally feel the plan is doable,” Blades said. “Over the long run, it would save the county money on overtime.”
Connell said he might be able to vote for the sheriff’s plan after studying it but not within the short time frame it was presented Tuesday.
“This may be a great proposal, but (not when) getting it at a board meeting,” Connell said. “Something with long-term implications for the county, we’re getting today.
“I need time to really look at it. This is a major, major vote.”
Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) said he also didn’t like the quick answer being requested but would support the request.
“It’s a step in the right direction. Although we are creating two new positions, I think they will save us some money.”
Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) said he told the sheriff to bring the request to the board’s regular session, hoping they could begin overtime reduction as soon as possible with the hirings.
The approval will reclassify a lieutenant to a basic correction officer position and create one new correction officer.
Supervisor Debra Malaney (R-Ticonderoga) said she wants to know three or six months down the road how it’s working and whether money is being saved.
Cutting promised to provide that information. He also said he didn’t mind the criticism.
“It keeps me on my toes,” he said.
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