Utah County Sheriff cites health as additional reason for resigning, says intent was not to disrupt
During a public comment session Tuesday, Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy said he wanted to clear up more of his reasons for resigning from the office five months before the end of his term.
Tracy announced at the July 3 commission meeting that he was resigning, citing lack of communication with the commissioners over a $1 million funding shortfall caused by an inmate at the Utah County Jail with expensive medical bills.
Tracy, whose last day in office is Friday, said rumors have circulated that perhaps he had resigned when he did to purposely cause disruption, something Tracy said couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Over the last 18 to 24 months, my health has deteriorated and I find it increasingly difficult to maintain the necessary strength to be efficient and be engaged as much as this position demands,” Tracy told the commission.
Besides his deteriorating health, Tracy said his second reason for resigning when he did had to do with the fact that the field has been narrowed down to only one candidate for sheriff on November’s General Election ballot: Pleasant Grove Police Chief Mike Smith.
It has been an internal practice within the department for decades to allow an incoming sheriff, if there is only one candidate, to help prepare the budget for the next year. Tracy said when he was coming into his term as sheriff, being the only candidate on the ballot, then-Sheriff David Bateman allowed Tracy to prepare the budget for the upcoming year.
Having Smith be directly involved in the process will allow him to shape the budget in relation to his priorities and initiatives he outlined when he ran for office, Tracy said.
Resigning at this time will allow Smith the same opportunity that other sheriffs have had prior to being formally elected, Tracy said.
“I think there has been some concern from people as to why I was leaving at this time, that it was something to disrupt,” Tracy said. “It could be no further from the truth. It’s just an opportunity to move this new incoming sheriff into the budget preparations.”
During his comments Tuesday, Tracy did not specifically mention the budget issue that he cited when announcing his resignation July 3: that of needing additional funding to cover medical bills that had drained one of the jail’s funds. Tracy said at the time that the commission had been unresponsive to emails for the requested funds, though all three commissioners later said they had spoken with Tracy about the issue.
After announcing his resignation, funds were moved from a different jail fund to cover the shortfall, and the commission plans to open the budget to transfer an estimated $600,000 from reserves to the sheriff’s budget next week.
However, Tracy did criticize the way that Utah County has “kicked the can” down the road during his 41 years in the county’s employ by continually trying to do “less with more.”
“The old, and now tired, mantra of doing less with more has been a staple of the Utah County Commission for the entire 41 years I have been here,” Tracy said. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
But, Tracy said, even in the best of times, the sheriff’s office is walking a thin line with having enough employees. Utah County currently has 17 employees per 10,000 residents, the lowest per-capita in the state, while also having the lowest tax rate.
Positions that were let go during the 2008 recession have still not all been rehired, and the new Utah County Jail was never fully staffed when it opened, Tracy said. Staffing issues at the jail have only gotten worse, as Utah County has lagged behind nearby law enforcement agencies in pay.
The Utah County Commission voted this year to implement a wage study, which upped wages overall about 9.5 percent, Tracy said, but Utah County deputies are still falling 10 percent behind.
The sheriff’s department is losing deputies weekly due to the wage issue and the fact that competition for deputies and peace officers in the state has become intense, leading Tracy to call the situation a crisis.
“The inadequate wage and benefit issues come about due to the fact that too little attention to the issue has been given, and the decisions about how to fix this issue have been implemented too slowly,” Tracy said.
Tracy said employees are grateful for the raise the commission did give employees, and recognized that not all the issues originated with the current three commissioners.
“I and the other 519 employees at the sheriff’s office know that the present commission did not create all these problems,” Tracy said.“In fact, these problems have been going on for many years.”
But in closing, Tracy asked the commission to trust department heads when they say they need more in their budget than the projected revenue. Rather than telling department heads they must fit within projected revenue, Tracy encouraged the commission to look at creating the revenue necessary to provide necessary services to the county.
Tracy also thanked the commission for its time, saying it has been an honor and a privilege to serve Utah County.
“I do believe as far as a career, there could not have been a better one for me,” Tracy said.