By Meg Dickens
Last week, The Tomahawk reported on the employee shortage at the local prison. This week, news of the local jail’s employee shortage came to light. County Lawyer Perry Stout commented that it is “painfully close to not being able to run the jail.”
The cause of the vacancies seems to revolve around wages. According to County Mayor Mike Taylor, the fast-food industry is advertising jobs at higher pay than jail employees received. During the Thursday night meeting, officials shared that the jail only had seven employees at that point and a budget for a total of 18 plus the chief.
“I don’t think it’s safe for anyone,” Taylor said of the decreased staff numbers. “I think it’s something we need to settle quickly.”
As an incentive for current and possibly returning employees, the county agreed to increase pay, ranging from $12 to $18 per hour based on experience. Current employees and those that fall within the determined time frame will also receive a bonus in October. According to Sheriff Eddie Tester, that timeframe is still being calculated.
“They deserve a pay raise,” Tester said when asked about the county’s decision to bump up pay. “They work hard at what they do.”
The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) is working with County Director of Accounts and Budgets Russell Robinson to “make it work” although the exact cost is still unknown. The county will be moving some money around in December to attribute for the needed funds. Commissioners believe a portion of the expected opioid lawsuit money could be used for these purposes too. According to officials, the county has already been paying extra money for assistance to fill in for the missing staff.
The plan is to advertise online through JCSO resources, advertise in local publications, and contact former employees to see if they are willing to return. Tester hopes to have at least 16 people on staff. The County has already seen results since upping the pay. Less than a week later, the JCSO has hired or rehired four employees, according to Tester.