"How do you put a dollar value on a person's life?"
A simple question posed to the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors by one of several concerned citizens helped the Supervisors arrive at a decision regarding ongoing staffing of the sheriff's office. The action came on a vote during the Nov. 20 board meeting at the courthouse.
Sheriff-elect Lynn Schultes had appeared before the board a week earlier to request permission to hire two deputies to maintain the current staff at eight deputies after he takes office on Jan. 1, 2013, as Sheriff Denny Goeders will retire and Chief Deputy Todd Suhr has announced similar plans.
The board at that time directed Schultes to begin the hiring process for one deputy, and wanted to look at options, including budget considerations, before taking action on the second position.
Nearly 20 citizens turned out to speak in favor of keeping the department staffed at eight, and several comments suggested adding more staff in the future.
Amanda Schmitt, Principal at West Bend-Mallard, told the board she was receiving calls about fights, student alcohol and tobacco problems and the like. "I don't have the training to deal with those things like the deputies do, and I don't want to have to deal with them. At what cost will it come to us citizens if you don't replace both deputies?"
County Treasurer Mary Hilfiker acknowledged that the supervisors were trying to be good stewards of the taxpayers money, but then asked the supervisors two questions. "How do you put a dollar value on a person's life?" Hilfiker asked. "And then, I've worked with Lynn and found him to be of the highest character and standards. Give him a chance to get his administration going with a full staff. Have faith in him and the office."
Mallard Mayor Jim Gehrt said he felt the office needed to keep eight deputies. "I've been in contact with a lot of the other mayors and the consensus is that we need eight deputies, and possibly even more."
Sheriff Dennis Goeders spoke up. "In the past eight years, these eight deputies have worked to put 37 people in prisons for terms from five to 63 years. They've worked hard to clean up the county and make it safer for the people. I'd really hope you'd stay with eight deputies. This is not the time to go backwards."
"The taxpayers want you to cut expenses,"?Howard Morey of Mallard told the board. "But, this is no-win if you have to pay more overtime for less deputies. I think you may have to look at more deputies in the future. Leave them alone, the way the are. They're protecting us and not letting the criminals into our county."
After hearing more comments from the public, the supervisors expressed their thoughts. Ed Noonan noted that the board needed to look at all options. Leo Goeders thought a reduction of deputies would "be crazy," which Supervisor Ron Graettinger agreed with.
"I?started this,"?Jerry Hofstad said. "Our obligation as a board is to the people of Palo Alto County. The calls I got were opposed to a second deputy."
"We asked for the public's opinion, and the people spoke,"?Board Chair Keith Wirtz said, "And, they were about 75 percent in favor of staying with eight deputies. But we do have to watch the budgets."
With Graettinger offering a motion to keep staffing at eight deputies, a 4-1 rollcall vote followed to approve the move, with Hofstad casting the lone nay vote.