BUCKHANNON - A request to hire a part-time temporary deputy for the Upshur County Sheriff's Department on Thursday raised questions about the legality of such a move as well as concerns about the department's budget.
Upshur County Sheriff David Coffman appeared before the Upshur County Commission at its regular meeting seeking permission to hire a temporary law enforcement officer who would work for 90 days at a rate of $16 per hour.
"The reason for the request is I think the commission is fully aware that I've been a man down for many months now, and I thought I was going to be able to fill this position in November, but the person we had in mind decided not to come with us," Coffman said.
The sheriff said although he has a list of 10 "active applicants" who have successfully passed the written and physical agility components of the sheriff's civil service examination, he's not sure he's ready to bring any of them on board. Interviews are ongoing, he added.
"As of today, I'm not in a position to hire anybody," Coffman said. "I have to do more research. It's going to take me a while to find that right person. Until I have that feeling that this is the person for our department, I'm going to drag my feet a little bit."
Coffman also noted the department recently lost former Chief Deputy of Administration Virgil Miller, who, in accordance with an agreement made with the commission, submitted his resignation letter Dec. 31, 2013.
"So actually right as of today, I'm down two people and I'd like to put a Band-aid on that until I get the opportunity to hire somebody," Coffman said.
Newly elected Commission President JC Raffety said he thought the request could be in conflict with West Virginia Code, specifically Chapter 7, Article 14, Section 12, which Coffman had previously cited.
"It's been brought to my attention that there are two provisions you have to have in order to appoint someone," Raffety said. One is that an "urgent" reason for doing so exists, he said.
"There is also a second requirement that 'there is no list of persons eligible for appointment after competitive examination.'" Raffety read. "It seems that that's in conflict with the list of people (eligible candidates) that are on the door downstairs who have already tested for the position and have been assigned a score. It seems to be in direct conflict with the law."
According to state code, "Whenever there are urgent reasons for filling a vacancy in any position of deputy sheriff and there is no list of persons eligible for appointment after a competitive examination, the appointing sheriff may nominate a person to the civil service commission for noncompetitive examination; and if such nominee shall be certified by the commission as qualified, after such noncompetitive examination and a medical examination, he may be appointed provisionally to fill such vacancy."
Commissioner Donnie Tenney questioned whether there is sufficient funds in the sheriff's budget to pay the salary of a temporary deputy.
"I have not looked at the dollar amount on paper, but this vacancy that I'm trying to fill has been there since July 1," Coffman replied. "I don't think I mean, we haven't touched that money."
County Administrator Megan Pomeroy said that from a budgetary perspective, the sheriff's department is only down one deputy - not two - because Miller's position was only funded through the end of December. Pomeroy said no money was allocated to pay the salary of a temporary three-month position.
"I asked our bookkeeper to put together some numbers for me on the wages and as of right now, in wages, overtime, FICA ... and retirement for both law enforcement and home confinement, it's (the sheriff's budget) over 50 percent in every single one of those categories."
If the same spending schedule continues, Pomeroy added, the sheriff's department could be over its 2013-2014 fiscal year budget by $26,000.
"Well, okay. I was going to hire a man in November," Coffman replied. "Why wasn't I stopped back then saying the money's not there?"
"I don't think we got to that point in November because there was no candidate brought forward," Pomeroy responded. "I mean you do still have that (full time) position open and if you have that list of candidates, you can still fill that position, but we have not budgeted for that (full time) position and a three month provisional appointment."
Looking at a handout that had been provided to him by Pomeroy, Tenney observed that the sheriff's department has already expended 55 percent of the amount budgeted for wages for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
"Just the straight wages has been 55 percent of what's budgeted, so I guess my question if there was someone budgeted for that you didn't have in there then how's come you still spent 55 percent and you're short one man?" he asked.
Pomeroy said the overage could likely be explained by the money that was spent paying deputies to work days designated as holidays.
"Then you're paid twice," she said. "You're paid for the holiday hours and then you're paid straight wages."
"Shouldn't that have been figured into the budget from day one?" Coffman questioned. "Not if it's being worked over what we had budgeted for," Pomeroy replied.
"We want you to be staffed, we want you to do your job, but we don't want to end up like last year with a deficit at the end of the year that we've got to kick in money out of the general revenue to cover," Tenney told Coffman.
Pomeroy said she was concerned about the legality of the request.
"My concern for you would be if you're in violation of that statute at all because you do have a list of (eligible) persons," she said. "If you appoint somebody else, you might be putting yourself in hot water."
Coffman said it's possible he may not select any of the 10 eligible candidates and would consequently have to start at square one and begin the civil service testing process all over again.