Board nixes extra benefit for jail officers

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

SHEBOYGAN – Despite an emotional plea from Sheriff Todd Priebe, the County Board Tuesday decided that correctional officers should not receive protective occupation status.

“I wouldn’t want their job,” Priebe said of the jail officers. “We’ve got to find a way to attract people. We’re having a tough time getting people.

“I’ve lost five officers within the last year and we’re losing two more. They can’t handle the work. It’s not getting easier in the jail,” he continued.

The proposed change for full-time jail officers would have entitled them to specialized duty disability and benefits treatment as well as the opportunity for early retirement.

The change had been recommended by the board’s Law Committee on a 4-1 vote, but then the Human Resources Committee voted 3-2 against it.

Supervisor Mark Winkel moved to adopt the ordinance, but the board voted 18-5 against it.

Priebe related that the latest incident which triggered the proposal was an assault by an inmate on a Sheriff’s Department sergeant in the correction center that resulted, among other injuries, in a broken nose for the officer.

“It’s not getting easier in our jail. Things are definitely changing. At least 25 percent if not 33 percent of our jail population are dealing with mental health issues or drug abuse,” Priebe commented.

The cost of the additional benefits for the guards was estimated at $108,872 for 2016 and Priebe pointed out that the amount was included in his department’s budget that was approved by the board last month. One way that was achieved, he explained, was by reducing overtime in the department.

“The question is where these funds will come from in future years,” Supervisor Fran Damp, chair of the Human Resources Committee, asked.

“We are looking ahead and are feeling confident we can sustain,” the cost, the sheriff replied.

“$108,000 represents a little less than one cent on the mill rate. I think these people have got it coming,” Winkel responded.

Supervisor George Marthenze questioned whether additional benefits for the jail officers was the proper use for the money.

“To throw $108,000 at this is not going to solve anything. If you want to solve this, throw the $108,000 to mental health issues rather than paying correctional officers,” he said.

“This is a simple county jail and we’ve got people who are mentally ill in there. There is a whole bunch of questions that haven’t been answered yet,” Marthenze concluded.

“If you use the $108,000 to hire more mental health professionals, you could treat the cause instead of the symptoms,” Supervisor William Goehring added.

Priebe responded that directing $108,000 toward mental health would only be “a drop in the bucket. We don’t have them long enough to cure them.”

He pointed out that many prisoners in the correctional center are there only until their cases are completed and they enter the state prison system.

“The sheriff’s duty under state statute is to run the county jail and provide a safe atmosphere,” Supervisor Thomas Epping commented. “Protective status (for jail officers), I would think, is not part of that. Protective status does not put a shield in front of him, does not keep him safe. It is just a benefit.”

“I think this is a good recruitment tool for the sheriff,” Procek characterized the protective occupation status. “He’s been constantly working on recruitment over there.”

“The fact is that we need corrections officers. There’s not a lot of motivation to work in a correctional facility,” Priebe observed.

He said the enhanced status would make it easier to recruit younger, more capable officers for the jail and allow older officers to retire before they become burned out.

“Where’s the carrot to attract people who want to come to She- boygan County,” the sheriff asked.

“We all feel for the (jail) officers, but I still feel it does not cross to the status of protective officers,” Damp said.

Priebe noted that, under the state’s Act 10 governing public employees, the corrections officers are required to exceed 86 hours in a two-week work period before they qualify for overtime pay.

“The corrections division is the only work group in the entire county,” under that provision, Priebe pointed out.

“I believe in this whole-heartedly because it’s the right thing to do,” Priebe concluded.

Supervisors Charles Conrardy, Edward Procek, Vernon Koch, Jim Glavan, Jacob Van Dixhorn, Robert Ziegelbauer and Brian Hoffmann joining Winkel in voting for the change in status for the correctional officers. Supervisors Keith Abler and Libby Ogea were absent.

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