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Freeborn County sheriff, attorney put in salary requests

Albert Lea Tribune - 11/18/2023

Nov. 17—Freeborn County's sheriff and attorney are asking the Board of Commissioners to consider increases to their salaries for 2024.

The board typically hears the requests during a work session before taking action on the request at a future meeting before the end of the year.

Sheriff Ryan Shea read an 11-page statement to the board, highlighting his work and successes this year, ending with a request to increase his salary to $150,000 for 2024, up from $113,000 this year.

He said when he came into the role as sheriff, the department was five staff short on patrol with a sixth deputy set to retire in five months. In addition, another patrol deputy who was on light duty was set to retire in October, and another deputy had been on extended medical leave.

"Our patrol staff was a skeleton crew that had been reduced to 22 hours of coverage in September, months prior to me taking office. For a patrol staff of 12, this all created a huge hole that we needed to climb out of," Shea said.

He said he explored several avenues to try to address the staffing issue, one of which is reassigning the six transport and court security deputies to patrol deputies. The department also implemented a lateral wage for experienced candidates, which has helped attract two hires. They have also increased the wages of the patrol deputies.

With the seven openings in2023, he said the department is still three patrol deputies short, one is on leave who will need to be replaced and they still have three additional transport and court security transfers to train.

The jail was also nine staff short at the end of 2022. They have hired staff and lost staff throughout the year but are currently full staffed.

Regarding the jail, he has planned the purchase of a body scanner to catch contraband coming into the jail and started re-implementing in-person programming. ICE inspections have gone well with excellent reports on staff. He is also working on implementing a social worker position in the jail.

"We have multiple people in our jail who belong in hospitals," he said.

He and Jail Administrator Mike Stasko are working toward a Family Visit Center for inmates who are parents, as studies show a lower recidivism rate for parents and children who participate in these types of visits.

The jail will have a new food vendor for 2024 that will save the county roughly $50,000 a year on food service, while providing a higher calorie daily intake for the inmates.

The number of inmates in the ICE program have increased from roughly 10 a day in January to over 40 a day in October and is expected to bring in about $1.1 million this year, up from a budgeted $700,000. The county will be able to use the extra $400,000 that had been committed to make up the difference for other projects, such as the body scanner.

To date, the ICE contract has brought in $28 million to offset local taxpayer dollars.

Shea said they continue to work to implement the new body cameras and vehicle cameras purchased by the previous sheriff, though they have encountered some difficulties. He also talked about plans to get a new K-9 for the department that will be paid for through grants.

Shea also pointed out relationships he has built with elected officials, training the staff has gone through and work being done with the schools for active shooter training and school reunification.

He said he is building relationships with school leaders in Glenville, Alden and Hollandale Christian School and has talked about increased partnership with them, as well as implementing the DARE program once fully staffed.

He is working on the security screening at the main entrance and how to adjust that going into the future and was a part in guiding the cannabis ordinance that was approved recently by the county board.

Shea said when he first came to the board in 2022 for his 2023 salary, he was a little naive and gun shy, knowing that it has been a hot topic for many years. He asked for a $116,500 salary, and the previous board set the salary at $113,000.

"This wage was over $10,700 less than the previous sheriff made in 2022," he said. "Yet, I feel I have done the work of a seasoned sheriff, in a year full of obstacles."

He said staff has kept up services and gotten back up two 24-hour coverage.

"I have begun a culture and atmosphere shift within the Sheriff's Office in what I believe is a positive way that will impact both the employees and the public," he said.

He also compared the salary in Freeborn County with that of other counties, and noted that of the 25 new sheriffs in the state in 2023, 55% made less than the previous sheriff, while 45% made more than their predecessor.

The Sixth District sheriff's average salary was shy of $140,000 in 2023 and with the 5.5% COLA increase that state employees would be receiving would be about $147,000 in 2024.

He noted the county also has the ICE contract and houses more inmates than other jails in counties their size and the department thus has more employees.

County Attorney David Walker, who could not be at the workshop because of a trial, requested an increase from $131,000 in 2023 to $138,000 in 2024.

In a memo to the commissioners, he pointed to guilty findings at three jury trials this year and multiple cases that won in the appellate courts.

His office is coordinating with the Minnesota Attorney General's Office on two homicide cases.

Other things he highlighted were his work on the cannabis ordinance, budget and office management, attending board meetings and contact with constituents, the county administrator selection and litigation, property tax appeals, data requests and other instances where he has had to provide legal advice in extraordinary matters.

Of a list of 10 comparable counties within 5,000 population, the salaries ranged from $125,000 in Lyon County to $151,000 in Morrison County, with all but three over $136,000. Five were over $143,000.

The board will set the elected official salaries at its Nov. 28 meeting, which includes their own salaries as commissioners. They will also consider a cost of living increase for other employees.


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