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A good case for hiring Extra manpower at county jails could curtail costly overtime

The Erie County comptroller and his auditors have shown through an exhaustive study that savings can be achieved from the sheriff's jail management division, erasing millions of dollars in costs currently being borne by the taxpayers.

Both the county executive, who asked for a management audit of the Holding Center operation, and the county control board should push for immediate corrections.

Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz and his auditors have discovered most of the $6.3 million in cost savings at the Holding Center in downtown Buffalo, which houses about 20,000 prisoners a year. Perhaps most disturbing is the amount of overtime at the Holding Center, which has cost county taxpayers $7 million to $8 million a year. And it's not as if the county can avoid those costs -- it must maintain staff levels ordered by the state Commission of Correction.

The paltry reimbursement rate from both the state and federal government for housing inmates does little to help the situation. At a figure of roughly $2 million in 2005, both the state and the feds are placing an unreasonable burden on local taxpayers.

The overtime required at current staffing levels could help jail deputies, some of whom earn more than $100,000 a year, boost their retirement checks, extending the extra cost for even more years.

The county comptroller suggests hiring a handful of additional deputies and juggling work schedules so that more are working on Saturdays and Sundays as part of their regular shifts. That sounds like a reasonable solution.

County Executive Joel A. Giambra should be credited for asking the comptroller for an audit. Now, armed with the data, he should work to correct the situation.

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