Westmoreland County sheriff won’t alter staffing as cash runs out | TribLIVE.com
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Rich Cholodofsky
Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held explains a new drug testing program for employees he wants to implement in the aftermath of the arrest of deputy Erika Ditch, 24, of Greensburg, during a press conference on Thursday April, 04, 2013 at the Westmoreland County Courthouse. Ditch and Leann Wechtenhiser, 24, of Derry were arrested on charges of possession with intent to deliver heroin.

Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held said Thursday he will continue to schedule his staff to work overtime and assign duties to part-time deputies even though there is little money left to pay them for the rest of this year.

The first-term sheriff made his comments shortly after county commissioners rejected a proposal to increase Held’s budget by $55,000 to cover added personnel costs.

“I guess it comes down to if they are going to pay my deputies. We don’t have any other choice when a judge orders us to do something. We’re just going to have to keep going,” Held said.

The commissioners and Held have had a rocky relationship since he took office three years ago. Commissioners contend Held has improperly moved the sheriff’s department toward additional duties, such as community policing.

The sheriff’s department is primarily responsible for providing security in courtrooms, transferring and guarding prisoners outside of the county jail and serving warrants.

“The sheriff continues to go outside those core duties,” said Commissioner Charles Anderson. “We have to get his attention to get this stopped.”

Steve Felder, a deputy sheriff and president of the Court Associated and Court Related Employees Union, said his members will continue to work as assigned by Held.

Felder declined to make any additional comments.

Held employs 66 full-time deputies and support staff, and 21 part-timers. His office operates with a $4.9 million budget.

Commissioners initially allocated $90,000 for overtime costs and $350,000 for part-time help for this year, according to county Finance Director Sandy Flanders.

In October, commissioners added $24,000 to Held’s overtime and part-time budgets.

Through Nov. 15, Held has spent $107,700 for overtime and $363,000 for part-time workers, Flanders said.

Held said the overtime and part-time assignments are needed because of an increased workload. Commissioners have routinely rejected efforts to increase staff in the sheriff’s office, he said.

“I think the whole thing is political,” Held said. “Our core duties are up, and we’re operating on a 2010 budget (level). We are not doing more than we should be doing.”

Held said that the number of prisoner transfers increased 28 percent since 2012 and his department has served 8 percent more warrants in that same period of time.

Commissioners haven’t been swayed by that argument.

“The sheriff needs to be accountable for both his budget and his actions. He needs to put an end to all the extracurricular activities,” Commissioner Ted Kopas said.

Commissioner Tyler Courtney said Held has not stayed within his department’s budget.

“When we set a budget, those are things that can be controlled,” Courtney said.

Commissioners have squabbled with Held over issues including his hiring procedures, drug testing of staff and a proposal by the sheriff to provide backup for local police departments.

“This is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Anderson said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or [email protected].

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