New presiding commissioner Ron Schieber this week began his four-year term with a 19-minute commission administrative session and a considerably lengthier budget meeting, focusing on a familiar subject — a potential jail expansion.
“I hope all the meetings will go like this,” Schieber joked at the close of the routine session.
Schieber and new county clerk Nancy Armstrong both received welcomes from the district commissioners and staff, less than a week after being officially sworn in to their new positions during a ceremony Tuesday, Dec. 30 at the Platte County Government Complex.
“I just wanted to say that I think Mr. Schieber will be a fantastic addition to the commission,” said first district commissioner Beverlee Roper.
Schieber said he has had a few days on the job to settle in, and while he’s still getting his feet wet, he was now “ready to dive in.” He’s already been diving in for a time, as budget meetings have been ongoing throughout the holidays and continued this week.
“The budget still needs a lot of work,” Schieber said. “But it’s been a good process, even though we may not always agree on everything.”
A few of those areas of disagreement arose during the two-hour budget meeting, but a first area of consensus was on the need to further assess the need for a jail expansion.
Last year, a potential jail expansion became a political hot potato due to a possibly flawed study and a contentious jail committee process. While the committee, made up of citizens appointed by all three commissioners, found that no expansion was currently needed, the actual jail population has continued to rise.
The Platte County Sheriff’s Office last year issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) to architecture firms capable of assessing the “futures” area beneath the current jail for a potential renovation into usable jail space. Sheriff Mark Owen told commissioners that last fall he was told there would be no more discussion on a jail expansion until after the new year.
“Well, it’s after the new year,” Roper said. “It’s a new commission. It’s time.”
Schieber and second district commissioner Duane Soper agreed that especially since the RFQ process was already complete, it was time to check into the feasibility of a futures area renovation. The commissioners also agreed to set aside a portion of the county’s cash carryover, earmarking it for a potential future jail expansion.
Owen said his department could be ready as soon as the next administrative session on Jan. 20 to ask for approval of a futures area study.
The commissioners were not as agreeable to a few other budget line items, including a possible cost of living adjustment (COLA) to county employees.
Platte County auditor Kevin Robinson, who was also present at the budget meeting, suggested a 3 percent COLA in his recommended budget. While Roper agreed, Schieber favored a 1 percent increase, and Soper compromised at 1.5 percent.
“I think 1 percent is almost insulting,” Robinson said.
“Well, it’s not my intent to insult anyone, but we have a limited supply of funds,” Schieber said.
Soper said while he hopes to reach a consensus by the end of the budget process this year, no final decision has been made.
Also up for continued debate was funding for the Platte County Economic Development Council and the University of Missouri Extension.
The county clerk’s budget will be funded to allow her to employ two full-time staffers and restore the office hours that were cut last year when the previous clerk’s budget was slashed.
The commissioner’s suggested budget will be released on the county website on Friday, Jan. 9. The public hearing on the budget will be held at 10 a.m. Jan. 20, and the budget must be adopted by Jan. 30.
At the administrative session, the commissioners approved the routine appointment of Owen as director of emergency management and authorized director of administration Dana Babcock to issue the annual supply bids.
Capt. Erik Holland of the Platte County Sheriff’s Department announced that Woodrow Painter, currently a detective, had been named the new captain in charge of investigations. He will replace Randall Pittman, who retired at the end of 2014.