O'Brien County Jail seeking kitchen help

O’Brien County supervisor Dan Friedrichsen listens as sheriff Bruce Devereaux and Lt. Tom Raymond speak to the board Tuesday, Oct. 19, about a staff shortage in the county jail’s kitchen.

PRIMGHAR—The O’Brien County Jail in Primghar has been running short on kitchen staff for a long time, which is why sheriff Bruce Devereaux requested the county’s permission to add a full-time position.

Devereaux and jail supervisor Lt. Tom Raymond brought the matter to the board of supervisors’ attention Tuesday, Oct. 19.

The sheriff said the food services staff at the jail consists of two full-time employees and one part-time position. However, the part-time worker has been on leave for a medical reason and Devereaux was unsure if the individual would return.

“If we don’t do something, we’ll probably lose the two we have,” he said.

His proposal to the supervisors was to hire a full-time position who would have a combination of jailer and cook duties, split at 75 percent and 25 percent. The worker would start in the kitchen, however, because that’s where the jail’s biggest staffing dilemma is.

He told the supervisors he interviewed a young man he thought could fit the role and suggested a yearly salary of $77,560 if the candidate opted for a family health insurance plan or $69,400 with a single health insurance plan.

Those amounts would be the maximum pay for the role, not starting amounts. Devereaux acknowledged it was a large amount but reiterated the precarious position the jail cooking staff was in.

The other two kitchen employees have felt the strain of added work duties due to the staff shortage, and Devereaux recalled one of them coming to his office in tears about the situation. They also have maxed out their respective vacation time, which has compounded their frustration.

He noted the supervisors already increased the wages of the existing kitchen staff earlier this year to compensate them for their additional work. Nonetheless, he feared they would not stay on as workers unless more help was hired.

An alternative option Devereaux said he was investigating to rectify the staffing predicament was contracting Summit Food Services, a corrections food service management company in Sioux Falls, SD. The company would provide staffing to work at the Primghar jail, although Devereaux pointed out potential downsides to that arrangement.

For one, he predicted contracting with the company would be more expensive because of the overhead costs of paying the management company and accounting for commute times to and from Sioux Falls. The jail also wouldn’t have control over who the contracted employees would be since they wouldn’t be local residents in the county.

Raymond presented information to the supervisors about jail staffing in neighboring counties and noted that many have smaller inmate populations than O’Brien County yet have larger full-time staffs.

Clay County, for instance, can hold 19 inmates but has 11 full-time staff and one part-time worker. The jail there has food delivered from a Hy-Vee.

On the other hand, the O’Brien County Jail can hold 42 inmates but has only 10 jailers and two cooks. Devereaux said there is a separate opening for a jailer position but that someone already has been hired to fill that role.

County auditor Barb Rohwer asked if the person Devereaux had in mind to hire for the jailer/cook role is already a jailer or if he would have to complete training to become one. Devereaux said the person would need to go through 40 hours of training.

The sheriff said his office does not have another full-time jail worker in his hiring budget for this fiscal year, which is why he sought the supervisors’ permission to hire someone given the circumstances.

“I just feel like now is the time to do it versus when we have no cooks,” Devereaux said, adding that he knows how to cook but did not know if he could do so for a large number of people.

He noted the jail accumulated $702,382 in revenue Jan. 1-Oct. 15, which is up by $57,000 from that time frame in 2020. Devereaux projected the total revenue at the end of 2021 would be a little more than $893,000.

Supervisor Dan Friedrichsen said he liked how Devereaux and Raymond have considered multiple options to address the staffing situation and agreed action needs to be taken.

“I don’t think we have a choice,” Friedrichsen said, and the other supervisors agreed.

After securing the supervisors’ go-ahead to hire a full-time jail employee, Devereaux said in separate comments to The REVIEW he hopes to fill the position by the end of October.