ERIE — The Neosho County Commission met in a budget work session Monday evening to continue discussion and hear requests from various county departments. 

Neosho County Sheriff Jim Keath asked commissioners for a $1 an hour raise across the board in his department, in an effort to get his hourly employees’ wages up.

“Last year we gave our employees a pay increase, but we still fall considerably short of what workers for the Chanute Police Department are making.” Keath said. “No, a $1 an hour increase isn’t going to get us there, but it’s still better than what they are currently making. For instance, I saw an ad in the Chanute Tribune for a dispatcher and the wage started at $16.63 an hour. After a year, they are at $18.89. We are nowhere near that.”

Keath said that the department experienced several budget cuts at the beginning of last year, but commissioners listened to his plea later in the year to increase wages.

“We actually cut one position to get wages up,” he said.

In addition to cutting one position, the department is currently short one law enforcement member, but Keath said they have someone who will join the force going to the training academy in two weeks.

He noted that his department is running efficiently at the moment, and has used approximately 42 to 46 percent of its current budget halfway through the year. 

“Like I said, we are operating within our current budget. We’ve spent approximately 42-46 percent of the budget at this time, which is good,” he said. 

The department will have some money freed up later this month when they make the last payments on trucks they purchased in 2017.

District 3 Commissioner and Chair Gail Klaassen told the sheriff that commissioners will do what they can to help the department.

“Law enforcement has taken its hits nationwide over the last couple of months and I am definitely not for defunding the department,” she said. “We want to help in any way we can and we appreciate everything that you do.”

Lori Nally, Director of 911 Services, also asked commissioners for a $1 an hour raise for employees in her department. 

“We are currently behind other departments’ wages-wise, but I think if we could get the additional $1 an hour increase in pay, we would be putting ourselves really close to other departments,” she said.

Nally said the biggest challenge has been scheduling and overtime costs with the department being down two positions.

“I try to schedule it to where all of us salaried workers get most of the overtime, so it doesn’t affect us too much,” she said.

Klaassen complimented Nally for her efforts. 

“You’ve had a difficult year, but you are doing very well, despite (Chanute) pulling out and being short staffed,” Klaassen said. 

Nally also requested an additional $1,200 a year for training purposes.

“They are strictly online courses that provide training for suicide prevention and other emergencies,” she said. “I don’t see us doing it this year, but when we get fully staffed, it would be nice to get everyone up on their training.”

Kathy Milner, Register of Deeds, proposed the same budget as the current year.

Milner said the effect of the coronavirus to business in her office had been minimal.

“Really, we have been just as busy as we were last year. COVID-19 hasn’t really affected us at all,” she said. “Business has just continued as always.”

The commission took no action at the work session. 

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