County Offices Dispute Expansion of Officer Reserve Unit

The Woodbury County Sheriff and the Board of Supervisors may be heading towards a showdown on expanding the number of reserve or volunteer deputies helping the force. The two sides will meet again on that issue tomorrow morning.

There are 28 Woodbury County Sheriff's deputies with a job that includes lots of responsibilities. Which is why back in the 1980s, the reserve officer unit was created to allow volunteers to help deputies with things like crowd and traffic control. The unit once held almost 50 officers, now it's down to 6.

"A strong reserve unit was what we always had, and we need to rebuild that unit back up," says Dave Drew, Woodbury County Sheriff.

Drew says the officers go through extensive training and are then allowed to carry guns and drive deputy cars.

Earlier this year, the Board approved a measure that would allow smaller cities and towns in Woodbury County to pay for police patrol. Drew hopes one day the reserve officers can supplement law enforcement in those towns.

But Board member Larry Clausen is concerned about increasing the number of reserve officers. That's because the county pays for Workman's Comp if any of them are injured on the job.

Sheriff Drew says he requested the 30 additional reserve officers because he understands volunteers can only give so much of their time. So he says the more people in the program, the better the chances of finding someone who can do the job when needed.

The sheriff says he would also like to consider paying the volunteers if they worked more than 9 hours.

"If the county board allows the money that's taken in from the community events to go to a reserve line item, then it's self funding. To me it only makes sense, if it's a public safety event then let's make a line item for that and we can pay them out of that," says Drew.

But Clausen says that money goes into the General Fund and is not for the sheriff to spend. Clausen says it also brings up the issue of whether these volunteers become contracted employees.

"There's no animosity on the board, we're just trying to figure out what he's doing, which we're entitled to; what the costs are, because we control the budget, and we get these questions answered, then we can move forward," says Clausen.

"It's a lack of communication in the past. I don't know how somebody could say they didn't know they had cars or carried guns? Well after I started to realize it I think they were just left out of the loop," says Drew.

A compromise has been suggested by the head of the local Taxpayer's Research Council.
James Van Bruggen suggests the supervisors conduct a one year test to determine the pros and cons of expanding the number of reserve deputies.

He realizes there is increased liability to the county but in the long run he believes the expansion could be successful and even save the county money.

The Sheriff and board members will talk more tomorrow at the County Board meeting.