County manager says money found to expand to jail staff

Sharna Johnson

Curry County Manager Lance Pyle said Tuesday he has found the money to add seven personnel to the jail’s staff.

Pyle told commissioners he would include the positions in the budget, which will be voted on at a special July 28 meeting.

Pyle said the jail jobs are possible because:

• County departments came in under budget more than $545,000.

• Revenues have increased.

• Cuts had already been made in the budget.

• Insurance premiums have been reduced.

The issue of additional detention officer positions has a contentious history and led to Sheriff Matt Murray relinquishing command of the facility in June.

Murray was in command 95 days after Interim Administrator Carlos Ortiz and several command staff walked off the job.

When commissioners rejected a request to add 10 detention officers to the preliminary budget, Murray withdrew, citing a need to address staff stress, overtime issues and security gaps.

As of July 14, the jail had 12 vacancies, eight of which are detention officer positions.

Murray and others have said the vacancies exist because staff often quit from being burned out and stressed and additional personnel would alleviate those issues and help retain employees.

Pyle said he created the positions — six detention officers and one finance specialist — at the request of jail Administrator Keith Norwood.

“That’s what (Norwood) felt like he needed in his final budget for the facility and as of right now it’s … in the final budget,” Pyle said following the morning meeting.

Pyle said he believes the county can support the positions, which will cost roughly $200,000 a year, long-term.

“Based on our growing community and our revenue projection this is something that I do support and I feel like it can be sustained,” Pyle said. “I wish we could do more, but this is a start and it’s something we can sustain.”

The 10 positions requested previously were expected to cost $263,000 a year and in May, Pyle said he had already cut more than a million dollars from the $11 million budget.

Pyle, who commissioners had instructed to find a way to make the positions fit into the budget, had previously said there was not enough money to accommodate the positions without making cuts elsewhere, possibly to salaries and nonprofit program support.

Cuts already made to the budget include eliminating 3 1/2 vacant positions — two from the road department, one from the assessor’s office and a part-time administration slot.

Pyle said he plans to ask commissioners to transfer the $545,000 savings to next year’s budget for capital outlay projects.

In other business, commissioners: