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Deputies now on chopping block

The Island County sheriff may end up losing a deputy or two after all in the current round of budget cuts.

Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson surprised Sheriff Mark Brown Monday afternoon in announcing that she no longer supports his plans to make his prescribed budget cuts, in part, by laying off the director of emergency management. The commissioner placed the department within the sheriff’s office earlier in the year.

Undersheriff Kelly Mauck said after the meeting that he and the sheriff are studying the budget, but they will probably have no choice but to “cut one or two line deputies.”

“I think the decision today is the wrong decision,” Mauck said, “and I think it was made for the wrong reasons.”

Island County commissioners assigned the sheriff to trim 5 percent of his $5 million budget. He originally announced that he could avoid losing any deputies by laying off a records clerk and Dave Hollett, the director of emergency management.

Under the sheriff’s plan, Hollett would be replaced by a lieutenant in the sheriff’s office. Brown estimated he could cut $80,000 by laying off Hollett and reducing maintenance and operating costs in the department of emergency management office.

Brown said his highest priority was to keep patrol deputies on the job, but civil service rules tie his hands when it comes to layoffs. If he were to cut any commissioned officers, he has to first lay off the most junior deputies who work the roads. So eliminating Hollett was a way to cut a job in the office and preserve patrol deputy positions.

A couple of weeks ago, commissioners Johnson and John Dean gave the sheriff their approval to lay off Hollett. Commissioner Angie Homola was against it, but she was outvoted.

Monday morning, Hollett and three individuals involved in emergency management urged the commissioners to stop the sheriff from eliminating him. They all argued that law enforcement officials in the sheriff’s office don’t have the training to do the job.

“We need to have our law enforcement focus on what they do best — law enforcement,” Hollett said.

Terry Clark, the coordinator for the Medical Reserve Corps of Island County, warned the commissioners that the community and the volunteers would be less safe without Hollett.

“The inexperience in management will lead to a Katrina-type scenario if there’s a disaster,” she said.

In an afternoon meeting, Brown explained to the board that he had assembled a transition team to take over for Hollett. But Price Johnson put a stop to the transition by announcing that she had changed her mind after receiving more information and hearing the concerns of those in the emergency management field. Also, she said it’s not a good idea to have emergency management within a partisan office like the sheriff’s.

“I wouldn’t want it to be tossed around as a political football,” she said.

Furthermore, Price Johnson said it doesn’t make financial sense to have a whole team of high-level employees within the sheriff’s office replace a $40,000-a-year employee during the transition.

“If you are able to absorb this in your department, maybe there are other ways you can cut,” she said.

Commissioner John Dean said he still supported Brown’s proposal, but he was outvoted this time.

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