Kan. county approves $4.6 million for corrections staff retention bonuses

Funds would go specifically to the sheriff’s office and corrections department, which are experiencing vacancy rates of 20% or more in some operational areas

By Robert A. Cronkleton
The Kansas City Star

OLATHE, Kan. - Johnson County commissioners on Thursday approved funding for up to $3,000 in retention bonuses to combat staff vacancies in the sheriff and corrections departments due to a labor shortage.

In an unanimous vote, commissioners agreed to spend more than $4.6 million over the next two years to help those agencies retain staff. The money is coming from the Countywide Support Funds reserves.

“We are struggling, at least in some areas of the organization, to be able to recruit and retain,” said Maury Thompson, interim director of the human resources department.

The amount approved by commissioners would go specifically to the sheriff’s office and corrections department, which are experiencing vacancy rates of 20% or more in some operational areas. They do not have the financial means within their existing budgets to support the retention bonuses, Thompson said.

The amount approved is not to exceed $2.3 million with $1.7 million for the sheriff’s office and $700,000 for the department of corrections each year over the next two years.

Because of the vacancies, the sheriff’s office is using overtime to fill positions at the jail and its patrol division. There are around 50 vacancies in the sheriff’s department.

As of June, the corrections department had 51 open positions in the juvenile detention center and adult residential center, leading to mandatory overtime, according to a briefing sheet on the issue.

The amount of the bonus was determined after a “fairly extensive conversation” with the sheriff’s office about what they believed was needed to address the issue, Thompson said.

Tom Dugan, director of finance for the sheriff’s office, conceded that they don’t know if the bonus will be enough, noting that whenever the sheriff’s office implements new strategies to compete in the job market, the competition reacts.

“We already have some other police departments that are implementing similar type of initiatives to try to maintain their own people,” he said. “We are treading water. We are doing what we can. This, to be honest, is what we could afford to do at the time as well.”

The county isn’t the only Johnson County government turning to bonuses as an effort to retain workers.

Last month, the Shawnee City Council in a split vote approved awarding a one-time $5,000 bonus to 317 full-time city employees in their last paycheck of July. Eight regular part-time employees will receive a prorated bonus.

At the time the measure passed, there were 25 vacancies across all departments, including 12 in the police department.

Mayor Michelle Distler said at the time she saw the bonuses as a an investment and a way the city could show it appreciates the way employees had been picking up the jobs of others.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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