County council votes to add four more jailers at Hgtn. County Jail

Four jailers will be added to the staff of the Huntington County Jail, despite budgetary concerns expressed by two members of the Huntington County Council.

Councilman Shane Bickel had no such concerns.

“This involves human beings. This involves safety,” he told fellow council members during their meeting on Thursday, Nov. 30. “This is the most important priority we have right now.”

Sheriff Terry Stoffel and Jail Commander Jeff Kyle said hiring more jailers would allow for additional staff in the evenings and on the weekends.

“To me, that’s the most vulnerable time for the jail, in the evenings,” Kyle said. It’s also when the fewest number of jailers are on duty, he said.

The new employees will be full time, and although they won’t completely replace the current roster of part-timers, will be better equipped to handle jail situations, he said.

“They’re going to be there every day, not just twice a month,” Kyle said.

Councilman Todd Landrum expressed concerns about the cost of training and overtime, as well as employee turnover at the jail.

“There’s a turnover there that we’ve got to get under control,” he said.

Kyle conceded that several jailers had left to become law enforcement officers or for other positions after a short time on the job, but added, “I haven’t had any turnover in over a year right now.

“The turnover is in part-timers … Part-timers come and go like the doors open.”

Councilman Ron Kline suggested adding three jailer positions now and hiring a fourth in the future, a tactic he said could alleviate financial strain.
Bickel, however, said having an inadequate jail staff could end up being more expensive than hiring four new jailers.

“It’s costly when a mistake happens and people get hurt,” Bickel said.

Stoffel said the jail staff is frequently forced to call road officers for backup to quell disturbances in the jail, and Kyle said jail staff escorting inmates to court have been called back from court to help deal with jail incidents.

Even though the jail census is currently fairly low, with 98 inmates, the frequency of disturbances is escalating, Stoffel said. The local jail is no longer housing only people convicted of misdemeanors, and the addition of those convicted of more serious crimes and the prevalence of drug addiction has heightened the problems.

“I have no doubt you need those men,” Councilman Terry Miller said.

Hiring the four jailers will cost $140,000 in wages and $56,000 in benefits. The money will come from the Public Safety Local Income Tax, leaving that fund with a balance of just $139,000 for the remainder of 2018, County Auditor Cindy Yeiter said.

“That’s down lower than we have probably ever had it,” she said.

“It’s tight,” Council President Kendall Mickley said. “It’s definitely going to run us pretty close, but it’s not undoable.”

Public Safety LIT will start 2018 with a balance of about $542,000, and an additional $819,646 will be paid in during the year, Yeiter said.

Some $370,000 of that LIT fund is already earmarked to pay for renovations that will provide a space for counseling and mental health services at the jail. Stoffel says that’s a needed expense, given the services local inmates need.

“We’re the last line of defense for a lot of these people because nobody else cares about them,” Stoffel said.

The four new jailers are anticipated to start work in early 2018 after the council voted 5-2 in favor of adding the positions, with Kline and Keith Eller voting against the plan. Landrum, Mickley, Miller, Bickel and Don Davenriner voted to hire all four jailers.

The jail is currently staffed by 11 full-time jailers. Kyle said he’s already solicited applications for the new positions and has received about 30 responses.