Benton County citizens urge Commissioners to fundraise for existing, future jail staff

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BENTON COUNTY, Mo. – Taxpayers in Benton County are urging commissioners to vote on and approve funding for a second pay raise for jail staff this year.

In January 2021, The County Commission approved Sheriff Eric Knox’s request to bump jailers’ pay to $14.81 an hour.

Sheriff Knox tells OzarksFirst he believed that would be enough to hire more experienced staff to operate the county’s new, state-of-the-art jail.

Six months later, the county is still struggling to compete with nearby counties.

The sheriff asked in June for another raise that would increase the hourly wage by one dollar.

The Sheriff says two months passed with no vote from Commissioners.

A group of supporters and board members from the Friends of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office gathered at the Benton County Courthouse today to ask the commission how the raise would be funded.

Quote from Chris Wilson.

According to Sheriff Knox and supporters, not have enough qualified staff is causing the city to miss out on about $1.5 million in yearly revenue that would be generated by housing up federal detainees.

“Quote about $4,000” Carrie

The new jail, which opened last year, can hold up to 55 federal inmates, generating about $78.50 per inmate per day.

Sheriff Knox says that money could be used for pay raises for deputies as soon as next year.

The sheriff tells OzarksFirst his deputies would be willing to have jailers make a little more money for the next few months if it meant another pay raise was coming for them in 2022.

During Monday’s meeting, County Commissioner Steve Daleski told those attending that sheriff Knox has the authority to hire qualified staff at a higher rate than $14.81, based on the jail’s pay schedule.

However, the Sheriff argues that is not an option. Because the County Commission is required to approve raises for existing jail employees, Sheriff Knox says he is not willing to risk hurting his current staff’s morale by paying a new employee more than the current wage.

The two groups also discussed alternative modes of funding, like federal grants coming from the American Recovery Plan Act, extra CARES Act funding, additional funds from the 1/8th-cent tax that funded the new jail, among others.

Still, Commissioner Daleski appeared reluctant to rely solely on revenue from federal detainees to fund a raise.

Quotes from both says “appears like a reliable revenue stream”

After a more than hour-long discussion, Reieman requested the Commission set a date to vote on whether to approve a raise for jail staff.

Commissioner Daleski told Reieman he wouldn’t ensure the issue would be put to a vote but guaranteed it would be discussed again in September.

The meeting ended with both sides deciding to create an action plan and discuss possible changes to the payment schedule for jail staff.

The two groups will meet again during the Commissioners meeting at the Benton County Courthouse on September 13th, 2021.

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