Sheriff waiting to see if budget cuts will be required

MONTESANO — Grays Harbor Sheriff Rick Scott says his office’s budget is in limbo as he waits for the county commissioners to decide whether he should cut his office by 3.5 percent, as mandated by the previous board, or to hold firm and keep his programs intact.

The budget passed by the last board requires Scott to cut $326,791 from his $9.6 million budget. He says those cuts would scale back courthouse security, eliminate a vacant deputy sheriff position and eliminate the popular resident deputy program, which puts deputies out on the South and North beaches. Scott said the only thing he’s done is not fill the vacant deputy or the vacant courthouse security deputy positions and he’s scaled back weapons screener hours, which is allowed in the county contract with the private security firm. He says he still has deputies patrolling the beaches as normal, at least for now.

County Commission Chairman Herb Welch says he’s told Scott not to implement the cuts right away to give himself and newly seated commissioners Wes Cormier and Frank Gordon time to decide whether there are any other alternatives.

Scott has sent three letters to the commissioners thus far regarding his office’s budget.

“I’m writing to ask for confirmation that it is now your desire to see the resident deputy program remain in effect and that no changes occur to the current staffing levels for the court security program,” Scott wrote.

“If that is the direction the Board of County Commissioners wishes me to take I will require that those monies earmarked for reduction be restored to our budget and/or the contra entry amount be reduced accordingly.”

In addition, Scott wrote to the commissioners asking for permission to fill the vacant deputy position.

Scott notes that the previous commissioners had given him permission to fill the position, and just weeks after that, implemented the 3.5 percent cuts to his office making it impossible to hire anyone.

“I’m requesting that the testing process be initiated so that an eligibility list is established per RCW and we have the ability to fill positions currently funded within the budget if and when they become vacant,” Scott wrote. “I have approximately seven officers who are eligible for retirement due to age and time in service. I anticipate at least two of these officers to retire in the next six months and an additional three are actively considering their retirement options. By acting now and testing for deputy sheriff, I hope to lessen the amount of time we will work with vacant positions, thus putting a greater work load on already strained resources and staff.”

Scott also wrote to the commissioners on Jan. 4 to specifically meet to discuss potential raises for himself and his exempt staff, noting that “our salary scale relative to the various classification and ranks within the agency have become misaligned.”

Some officers are making more than their supervisors, at this point, Scott said, which means some officers would never want to be promoted because they may “suffer financially as a result.”

Last week, the commissioners did reverse a previous decision by the prior Board of County Commissioners, giving the sheriff and other elected officials a 2 percent raise, like other county employees.