After several years of trying, Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander finally got approval to hire an additional deputy.
“I’m here today asking for one additional deputy,” he told the county board Tuesday.
“The sheriff’s office is short-staffed due to various leaves of absences and retirements,” Glander wrote in a memo to the board. Since 1999, he added, the county’s population has increased over 18%, and calls for service (not including the city of Detroit Lakes) have increased over 37% since 2005.
Statewide, the county ranks near the bottom on the number of deputies per 1,000 residents, Glander said.
The request seemed like an uphill climb, because the deputy position had already been left off the county budget for next year.
Glander went through the same process at budget time last year.
Commissioners are reluctant to add deputies because those positions are funded strictly with county property tax dollars, which means a levy hike or cutting somewhere else to pay for them
But the Becker County Board voted 4-1 to approve the request Tuesday, with Commissioner Ben Grimsley voting no.
“I can’t support it because it’s not on the budget,” Grimsley said. “We just discussed it a month ago (during budget talks). We’ve got to be mindful of what we’re spending here. That’s a pretty large impact on the levy.”
Commissioner Larry Knutson supported the request, saying that there is money available to pay for it for the first year.
“We decided not to budget that position, we didn’t decide not to fill that position,” Knutson said. “This could be funded with ARP (federal American Rescue Plan) money and phased into the county budget over several years.”
Commissioner John Okeson also supported the position. “I think the position is well-needed out there,” he said.
“It’s paid for through attrition this year,” noted commissioner Barry Nelson. He said that White Earth tribal police and city police officers at least partially offset the lower-than-average number of deputies in Becker County. But he still favors adding the position.
Nelson also noted that, since 25% of deputy overtime is not reimbursed by the state, the additional deputy will help cut down overtime costs at the sheriff’s office.
The board also agreed to fill two full-time corrections officer positions that are vacant due to resignations, and to add another full-time corrections officer position to help guard federal prisoners at the Becker County Jail.
The county has maintained about 25 federal prisoners in its jail throughout this year, and has taken in about $350,000 in federal revenue through that program, Glander noted.
Federal rules require two armed officers to transport the federal prisoners to and from their various appointments — hence the need for another corrections officer.
The Becker County Attorney’s Office didn’t have as much luck on Tuesday, when its request for a temporary one-year attorney was shot down.
That person would have helped work through a backlog of criminal cases, caused in part by restrictive court rules during the pandemic.
“We had an influx of cases before the pandemic, and an influx of cases during the pandemic we weren’t allowed to address because the court system was limited due to COVID restrictions,” said Becker County Attorney Brian McDonald.
“We’ve had office policies in place since way before my time,” he said. “We had to significantly amend those because of the pandemic.”
He argued against a part-time attorney, and spoke in favor of a full time temporary attorney, to work for a year from the date of hire, and to be paid with federal American Rescue Plan dollars. That attorney would focus on backlogged juvenile cases and other cases impacted by the pandemic, he said.
Becker County isn’t the only one struggling under the weight of cases backlogged by the pandemic. Olmsted County (Rochester is the county seat) has five times the population of Becker County, and the county attorney’s office is a much bigger operation. The county attorney’s office there asked the county board for three more county attorneys and two support staff, McDonald said.
Grimsley was concerned about the temporary position becoming permanent. “I’m concerned about the unbudgeted cost and an ongoing position,” he said.
Nelson said the one-year cost would be about $103,000, to be paid for through county American Rescue Plan funds.
But the board voted 3-2 against the request, with commissioners Knutson, Grimsley and Richard Vareberg voting no, and Nelson and Okeson voting yes.