The Clark County council on Tuesday sidestepped a recommendation from the county manager and appropriated additional money to the sheriff’s office to help staff keep up with public records requests.
The extra funds came as part of the county’s spring budget supplemental appropriation, a housekeeping measure intended to make technical adjustments to the two-year budget while also funding requests for new, critical or time-sensitive items. Following a work session last month, the county manager, who recommends the budget to the council, included 83 of 84 requests.
Citing a lack of data to justify it, the only request not recommended for funding was $203,745 for two records management positions in the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office lost a records management contract with the Vancouver Police Department last year and its backlog of records requests was taken over by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. However, the sheriff’s office still receives more public records requests than any county department and has been asking to add to the staff at its 35-person records unit since the council began considering the 2017-2018 budget last year.
“We’ve sort of gone backward and forward on our thinking on this,” said Councilor Jeanne Stewart.
At Tuesday’s hearing, the council voted 4-0 (Eileen Quiring was absent) to fund the request. The council also approved $100,000 for a study on the staffing needs and efficiencies in the records unit.
During the hearing, Sarah Leffler, public disclosure manager for the sheriff’s office, said that for 2017 her unit has been receiving 265 requests per month. She said that when the sheriff’s office had the records contract with VPD that number was 400 per month. However, she explained the requests it receives are high in volume and complexity and that currently the records unit has 36 requests with no staff to assign them to.
Sheriff Chuck Atkins said that over the last 20 years virtually no employees have been added to the records unit.
“Over a very long period of time that staffing level has stayed stagnant,” he said.
Councilor Julie Olson expressed some reluctance in supporting the request.
“Once we get positions in it’s hard to remove them, but I think we’re headed in the right direction where we are going with this,” said Olson. “Maybe you need more people. Who knows?”
She said that if the study does show that the new positions are not needed that will be considered when the county considers its next two-year budget.
The sheriff’s other requests were approved. The sheriff’s office can use $270,000 from the seizure funds to buy a Lenco BearCat G2 armored vehicle. It’ll have its request for a study to replace the shuttered central precinct folded into a broader study on county facilities. The council also approved $275,000 for ballistic protection gear for the sheriff’s office.
Council Chair Marc Boldt unsuccessfully introduced an amendment for one-time funding of $275,000 to replace the irrigation system at the 78th Street Heritage Farm, a county-owned property that houses WSU Clark County Extension and multiple farming and gardening activities. Boldt said that in recent years, the county has requested money from the state capital budget to fund the project to no avail.
“It is extremely clear that if you’re going to get anything out of the capital budget you have to have a story a little better than putting irrigation in the dirt,” he said.
The council also voted to increase the credit amount for the District Court’s work credit program. The program allows certain offenders to perform work picking up litter or doing maintenance at parks. By working a shift, an offender earns credit toward costs associated with their rehabilitation and supervision. The credit will now increase from $75 to $100 per shift. The change was made to reflect the going rate for similar work and a raise in the state minimum wage.