The most pronounced symptom of the county’s budgetary ills may be another hefty round of layoffs, but side effects from an old wound continue to hurt.
The Tooele County Sheriff ’s Department, which lost 22 employees in the first round of layoffs last August, has since then been trying to fill shifts without enough personnel.
Sheriff Frank Park said more department employees, fearful they were next to be let go, have retired or took jobs with other agencies. Because of a hard hiring freeze those vacancies have not been filled.
Park said Wednesday that the office is down two positions in the jail, three deputy positions and one dispatch position. Essentially, that means the sheriff’s department is having to do more with less — in the realm of public safety.
The two employee vacancies at the jail mean a lower number of prisoners that can be kept without compromising safety — including paying prisoners from other facilities. Park said the prisoner cap with current staffing is about 150. As of Wednesday, the jail’s inmate count was 138. That number is known to fluctuate to nearly 160.
“We’re at safe levels. What we’ve had to do is watch our maximum capacity number,” he said. “It does get a little hectic out there with the staffing.”
On the road, being down three deputies means each patrol shift is short one deputy, Park said, making it harder for them to quickly respond to emergen cies. It also reduces the amount of ground they can cover.
“[The shortage of deputies] has affected our overall arrival time. It’s just stretching, like every other department in the county,” said Park. “It’s just stretching our services to the limit. But we’re getting by. We’re still out there.”
Although the shortage in all three sections of the department’s purview has increased strain on employees, Park said most have been cooperative and understanding about the situation. Most, if not all, he said, realize that it’s a tough time for everyone on the county’s payroll.
“It’s a very, very difficult year and I think my employees understand it. Nobody likes it,” he stressed. “It’s very disheartening when people lose their livelihood. But the powers that be, that’s the way they’re going about trying to get us back on track, so I think we’re fairly supportive of that. We understand.”
Still, Park said, it can be frustrating, especially in a department that is on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The state of the county’s finances, though, demands that those who remain hold tight and hope for the best. “It’s a little different, being down a jailer or a deputy sheriff. It’s just a different animal that they’re dealing with on a daily basis than other departments,” he said. “I’m not putting down anyone else, and I understand every department’s had major cuts. Hopefully we’ve hit rock bottom and we’re going to rebound from here. But it’s going to be tough.”