Sheriff asks Douglas County to fund more behind-the-scenes positions; he thanks commission for last year’s pay raises

photo by: Josie Heimsoth/Journal-World

The Douglas County Commission, pictured July 8, 2024, has met for budget hearings this past week.

When Douglas County held its budget talks last year, Sheriff Jay Armbrister had a staffing crisis on his hands: His office was lagging far behind nearby departments in pay for deputies and corrections officers, and many were leaving for jobs elsewhere.

This year, he says, the sheriff’s office is still in need of more staff, but of a different kind — the clerical and technology personnel who work behind the scenes.

On Wednesday, the Douglas County Commission’s final day of hearing 2025 budget requests, Armbrister thanked commissioners for the restructured pay scale they approved last year. The pay package, among other increases, raised pay for corrections officers at the Douglas County Jail from $20.19 an hour to more than $27 an hour, and he said it’s helped attract and retain more qualified staff.

“This is an opportunity for me to publicly thank you for funding that because our applications rose a little over 600% as a result of that package and our staffing has increased,” Armbrister said.

But that doesn’t mean the office’s staffing is quite where Armbrister wants it to be.

When the county’s 2025 budget proposal was being assembled, the sheriff’s office initially requested funding for seven more positions — but the budget proposal ended up only including one. That one position is a reentry clerk, for $64,588 in funding, who would process requests for identification documents like birth certificates or Social Security cards for inmates and those leaving the jail.

Armbrister told commissioners that even if his office couldn’t get all of the new positions it wanted, he hoped they would consider funding at least two more in addition to the reentry clerk.

For one of these positions, he proposed combining two of the positions the office initially requested — a civil process clerk and a warrants clerk — into one job. That position would be responsible for processing warrants and paperwork for a variety of other matters.

“That person would be able to handle both of those positions or at least fill in the gaps,” Armbrister said. “So that’s my number one (priority).”

The original request asked for $64,588 for each of those positions. Armbrister didn’t say on Wednesday how much the combined position would cost.

The other position would be an information technology position for $88,304. Armbrister said that the department asked for such a position last year but did not receive funding for it, and that it would be important as dispatch and Sheriff’s Office Operations continue to add more devices such as license plate readers, hotspots and remote cameras.

“This would be a sixth person for our IT division, which would basically allow us to dedicate one person specifically to working dispatch,” Armbrister said.

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Several other organizations addressed the commission on Wednesday, including the KU Small Business Development Center, Eudora Chamber of Commerce, Douglas County Extension Council, Douglas County Conservation District, Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, Clinton Lake Historical Society, Douglas County Historical Society/Watkins Museum, Eudora Historical Society, Santa Fe Trail Historical Society, Lecompton Museum, Black Jack Battlefield and the public works and zoning and codes departments.

• The KU Small Business Development Center, which provides business owners with free business advising and resources, is seeking $30,000 for sustaining and expanding its operations in Douglas County. Among other things, the center provides assistance with business planning, financial analysis, market research, strategic planning and networking opportunities.

“We’re doing great work and we’re helping people, but let’s help more people,” said Will Katz, interim director of the Small Business Development Center.

• Every year, the Douglas County Conservation District asks for a total of $85,833 to be included in the county budget to fund operating expenses, which includes the implementation of local voluntary programs for landowners to conserve soil and water on farmland, rangeland and woodland.

However, the organization submitted a supplemental request for $24,292 to cover inflation increases, hire a part-time youth and urban outreach and education coordinator and continue expanding its conservation services to more farmers. The coordinator position would help reach the youth in the county and assist the urban farming community.

• After the Douglas County Extension Council submitted seven budget requests to the commission, Commissioner Patrick Kelly asked Marlin Bates, county extension director, to express the organization’s top priorities for the upcoming year in regard to funding. Bates said the top priorities were $16,862 for a cost of living adjustment for current staff; $5,383 to address pay equity issues; and $15,000 for a contribution to a LiveWell Douglas County executive director position.

Wednesday was the last day that the commissioners heard funding requests for the 2025 budget. County Administrator Sarah Plinsky’s recommendation calls for no increase in the county’s property tax rate, but that could change if commissioners choose to fund a large number of requests from outside agencies. Commissioners will begin deliberations at 9 a.m. on Friday, July 12, where they can begin adjusting the recommended mill levy based on projects they want to include or exclude from the budget.

The final vote on the budget is scheduled for the County Commission meeting on Aug. 28. To view the proposed budget, visit dgcoks.gov/open-budget.

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