Amato defends request for additional sheriff’s office overtime funds

Montgomery County legislators approved a $100,000 transfer of funds on Tuesday to cover additional overtime in the Sheriff’s Department. The money was transferred within the Sheriff’s Department budget, so there will be no impact on the overall county budget. But before they approved the measure, several legislators questioned Sheriff Michael Amato on why the transfer was needed and how far it would go.

In response to two questions from Legislator Martin Kelly, Amato said the $100,000 transfer won’t be enough to last through the entire year, but he doesn’t know how much he will end up needing.

“What we normally do is, toward the end of the year we make as many transfers inside the budget as we can to make up the money, and then I’ll come back to the [legislature],” he said.

Kelly then asked how far the $100,000 would go in addressing the overtime problem.

“If things don’t get any worse, probably at least two or three more months.”

Amato was blunt in his answer to Legislator Barbara Wheeler, who asked why the transfer was necessary.

“It’s pretty damn simple,” Amato said. “We’ve had a lot of people retire. A lot of people have gotten in trouble at the sheriff’s office that no longer work there. We have no [Civil Service] list to hire
from; we just gpt a list, and it’s pretty much depleted already. The applications we got are no good. We decided we did not want to hire those people.”

In addition, department personnel were further stretched when two inmates spent two weeks at Albany Medical Center, Amato said.

“Albany Med requires two corrections officers there 24-7.,” he said. “Two weeks, each inmate, so this depleted us.”

Amato also said he wished legislators would stay in contact with the sheriff’s department to get an idea of just how bad the situation is.

“If we had financial meetings once in a while at the sheriff’s office, you would know this stuff was going on,” he said to the legislators. “We’ve had no meetings with you at all. You’re more than welcome to come up to the sheriff’s office to find out what’s going on. There have only been two or three of you that have really come up there that know what’s going on.”

Amato said he is doing the best he can, and he expressed frustration at the civil service system he must follow when hiring people.

“We have to wait for the [civil service] list to come out,” he said. “They take so long to come out, and then when we don’t have a list, we have to go by applications only for probationary employment until they take a test. The civil service tests in New York are horrible. You take a test this month, you’re supposed to have the results back in like six weeks, it might be four months, five months later.”

He said not many people are applying for jobs in the Sheriff’s Department, and those who do apply are not necessarily qualified.

” The applications aren’t coming in that much, and the applications that we do get are not that good,” he said. “So unless you have an answer, that’s what I have to work with, the state of New York’s way of hiring people.”

In response to a question from Legislature Chairman Terry Bieniek, Amato said the pool of available people is a bigger problem than the salary offered, although raising the pay might help.

“We have an issue with the applicants right off the bat,” he said. “There’s no pool of people around the three counties. You go all around Montgomery County, there’s nobody here. They all leave. That’s a major problem right there.”

Legislator Joseph Isabel, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said legislators had talked several months ago about forming a committee to look into all aspects of the problem.

“We should proceed with that, Mr. Chairman,” Amato said.

Legislator Roy Dimond said he read that the starting salary for a corrections officer is $36,000 per year. He asked Amato how that compares with neighboring counties.

“The starting salary [in Montgomery County] is slightly lower than Fulton County, but our benefits are better,” Amato said.

Dimond said the problem has been going on for at least as long as the county legislature has been in existence.

“The sheriff came here on day one after we were elected, and he tells us the same story [today],” Dimond said.

Legislator John Duchessi said forming a committee would make more sense than continuing the question Amato.

“We should find out more about the depth of the problem and see if we can work with the sheriff to come up with a solution,” Duchessi said. “There’s an optimum strategy of either using overtime or hiring more people or a combination thereof. So we just have to find out what that is. If there’s a problem with respect to hiring personnel, then we would have to understand that a little bit better and see if we can address those problems. I think that’s the approach we should take.”

John Becker

John Becker is both a Reporter and Consulting Editor for The Compass. He and his wife Pat operate Abbey Farms in Amsterdam NY.