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Jeffco Sheriff, County Commission reach ‘understanding’ over vacant positions

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By Barnett Wright

The Birmingham Times

Sheriff Mark Pettway says his Office and the Jefferson County Commission have “reached an understanding” regarding the County Commission’s freeze on vacant positions in the fiscal 2024.

Last week Pettway said a 30 percent “freeze” by the County Commission on his budget will present a number of challenges including reduced staffing; operational constraints; delayed equipment upgrades; and a potential increase in crime.

The commission quickly responded that a freeze on the sheriff’s budget FY 24 “is not factually correct.”

The fiscal year began Oct. 1.

Pettway says he’s been said “assured” by County Manager Cal Markert and Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens that the funds typically allocated for the vacant positions will be redirected to benefit the Sheriff’s Office “in the form of salary increases for current deputies that will improve the Sheriff’s Office’s ability to retain its workforce, reduce turnover, and the costs associated with it.”

County officials, who said they were caught off guard by the Sheriff’s comments last week, already said they had funded a 10 percent pay increase across the board for Sheriff’s deputies for FY 2024 and a 4.7 percent increase to the Sheriff’s overall budget. “The commission also allocated $3.5 million to fund renovation of the Sheriff’s barracks for the training academy, in addition to the special $1.5 million allocation at the end of FY2023 for a total additional investment of $5 million dollars,” it said in a press release, adding the freeze was countywide, not just for the sheriff and “has no impact on [the Sheriff’s] operational expenses such as equipment, training, and outreach.”

Since the position freeze affects all county departments, “the county manager’s office also indicated that if hiring efforts exceed forecasts, and a business need exists, he [Markert] is willing to work with departments to address those specific situations,” according to the press release last week.

Pettway said the county’s position includes a commitment to bring on more deputies in the future.

“It’s essential for the Sheriff’s Office and the County Commission to maintain transparent communication with the public about these changes, ensuring that Jefferson County residents understand the rationale behind the freeze and it’s anticipated benefits,” the Sheriff concluded.