County looks at Delta jail staffing

ESCANABA – The Delta County Board of Commissioners has agreed to set a meeting to discuss how to proceed with an understaffing issue in the county jail; the issue was brought up at Tuesday’s county board meeting.

The board received a letter addressing the need from Delta County Sheriff Gary Ballweg earlier in the month. The letter notes a requirement set forth by the Michigan Department of Corrections (DOC) Administrative Rules for Jails and Lockups where staffing levels are addressed and interpreted regarding the jail’s safe operation.

According to Ballweg, the DOC-required staffing level for the facility is 20 full-time corrections officers, more than the current level of 13 full-time officers. This lower staffing level leaves staff and inmates at risk and results in inadequate security and unsupervised inmate activities, he said in the letter.

A DOC inspector is expected to return to Delta County in January and check on the status of staffing and overcrowding in the jail, said Ballweg.

“The board needs to deal with this letter,” said Board Chairman Tom Elegeert at Tuesday’s meeting. “I would suggest we turn it over to a committee to take a look at it because it would be a huge expense to bring it up to 20.”

Commissioner Dave Moyle also expressed an interest to talk with Sheriff Ballweg about the 20 officer requirement and discuss their options.

The board unanimously agreed to set up a Committee of the Whole meeting with Ballweg concerning the jail staffing request.

The board also voted to approve the lump sum retirement pay-out for Undersheriff Ed Oswald, who recently informed the board of his intention to retire effective Jan. 1.

Board Vice-Chair Mary Harrington thanked Oswald for his service. Commissioners Dave Moyle and Dave Rivard expressed their hope that Oswald would reconsider his retirement. Rivard noted the difficulty of the position, but said he had done his best to convince Oswald to stay.

“He is an asset that this county cannot afford to lose…,” said Rivard. “I’m asking Ed to consider, and I would like to see him stay even if it’s for six months or a year, to extend his period of time and give us a time of transition.”

In other business, the board:

– authorized Delta County Administrator Nora Viau to explore opening a retirement window option for the courthouse American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) unit, following an executive session meeting. Viau said following the meeting three of the six county housekeeping or maintenance employees who were laid off have the opportunity to retire as they are both Social Security and pension eligible. However, if this retirement window option proves feasible, two additional laid off employees could retire as well.

– agreed to settle a past due rent account with Pathways Community Mental Health for $202,000 pending approval of the Pathways Board, following an executive session meeting. The board voted 3 to 1 to approve the settlement, with Rivard in opposition and Commissioner Ryan Holm absent. According to Viau, both Delta County and Pathways had overlooked that Pathways’ rent had not been paid correctly for 10 years and have come up with this settlement offer to fix the issue.

– authorized using interest-based negotiations when bargaining with the county’s road patrol, following an executive session meeting.

– adopted a resolution for the county to apply for a $450,000 loan through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Brownfield Redevelopment Grants and Loan Program on behalf of expanding business, Fleet Maintenance, LLC, and which will be guaranteed by the city of Escanaba. Pending MDEQ approval, the business – which plans to expand to 1700 20th Avenue North in Escanaba – will use the funds through the loan program toward removal of debris and ash on the property prior to construction. The new business is anticipated to generate 14 full-time jobs.

– approved sending a letter to U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin requesting waiver from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, due to concern of its impacts.