MORRIS –The Stevens County Sheriff's Department will be back to five full time deputies this spring.
On Tuesday, the Stevens County Board of Commissioners authorized Sheriff Jason Dingman to fill the deputy sheriff position left vacant after he was appointed sheriff at the end of 2012.
In his presentation to the board, Dingman noted that this is not a new position and that it is already approved and accounted for in the 2013 budget.
“In order to maintain the high level of service that we provide to Stevens County residence, it is vital that this position be filled,” Dingman said.
“As sheriff of Stevens County, I will not do anything to jeopardize the safety of the citizens of Stevens County or my staff,” he continued. “By not filling this position, I feel that is exactly what would happen.”
The department, which is currently operating with four full time deputies and some part-time officers, is short-staffed on days when there are prisoner transports or a number of court dates. There has also been a steady increase in the number of overtime hours deputies are being called in to work, which would only increase if the fifth deputy position remained open, said Dingman.
Stevens County Attorney Aaron Jordan said that he has appreciated having a fully-staffed sheriff's office, which increases the quality of investigations and helps improve prosecutions.
“Since I've been here, I've really appreciated – when we have been fully-staffed – the quality of investigations,” said Jordan. “The report writing here is incredible, the investigations are sound.”
Having high-quality investigative work is important for big cases like sexual assaults and drug crimes – “things that you really need to root out in the community” – and, when done well, can help cut off big time problems in the future, said Jordan.
Stevens County Commissioner Bob Kopitzke noted that the board wouldn't even be having this discussion if they had gone with an external candidate to fill the sheriff's seat, leaving Dingman as a deputy.
“We wouldn't be addressing this except for the fact that you're not a deputy anymore,” said Kopitzke.
Commissioner Phil Gausman expressed concern about the community reaction to the size of the sheriff's office.
“We are hammered constantly with comments that we are 'over policed,'” said Gausman. “When we compare it to when we were kids when we had a sheriff and one part-time deputy and everything went fine... sometimes it's hard to address that issue.”
Commissioner Ron Staples said that he thinks it is important to begin discussions with the city of Morris about ways that they can work together – “I think there can be some efficiencies in the departments,” he said.
The timeline for hiring the new deputy is still under review.
• The board scheduled an informational meeting for landowners on County Ditch 18 to discuss the condition of the ditch and the process for repairs or improvements on Monday, March 11 at 8:30 a.m. at the Stevens County Courthouse.
County Engineer Brian Giese said his goal is to explain some of the upcoming issues for the ditch and help landowners decide how they would like to approach needed repairs.
County Ditch 18, located southwest of Alberta, is served by an open ditch with branching tiles systems that are “in fair condition at best,” said Giese.
• The board authorized Human Services Director Joanie Murphy to advertise for a new eligibility worker following the resignation of a current employee.