11/04/2007

Calif. sheriff seeks dorms for commuting deputies

By Brad Breithaupt
The Marin Independent Journal

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. - Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle wants the county to consider renting a house so that deputies, some of whom face commutes that take two hours or more, have a place they can sleep overnight.

The sheriff says renting a house where employees can spend the night is a way to help recruit deputies who can't afford to live in Marin. A five-year veteran deputy is paid $83,824 annually, plus benefits.

It's better than having them sleep in the county jail, where some now spend the night. The four-bed jail dorm room was originally designated for emergencies, but is now in use around the clock.

Doyle is shopping his idea to county supervisors who are interested, but not yet ready to commit county cash.

"This is a way for us to keep abreast and remain competitive in the market," Doyle said. "It's a viable alternative."

Eighty-five percent of Doyle's staff live outside Marin. Officials said 29 of the 200 deputies live at least 50 miles from the Marin Civic Center, with some as far away as Redding, Yuba City and Bakersfield.

The sheriff's office pays for three vans for commuting deputies.

Doyle said Marin's program would be modeled after a San Mateo County program, which rents a house in Redwood City and has a dorm in its substation at Moss Beach.

San Mateo sheriff's Lt. Steve Shively estimates 28 to 34 deputies use the Redwood City house each week. It has six bedrooms and 14 beds.

"It's pretty well used," he said. "It's a great benefit for the deputies."

"They are in the same boat we're in," Doyle noted.

Doyle said the rental would not be permanent housing for deputies, but a closer-to-work place where they can spend their "off" hours.

Some deputies routinely spend the night in the jail's four-bed dorm room. Others rent rooms from employees who live closer to Marin. Every now and then, deputies find an open bed at a county firehouse.

"I think it's a great idea," Doyle said, adding the program would be strictly managed. Doyle wants to make sure the deputies are good neighbors and that the home isn't an "Animal House."

San Mateo County pays $3,800 per month to rent its house. It does not charge deputies for staying there.

Doyle's proposal has the deputy sheriffs union's support. It was considering renting a house on its own, but concluded it was too expensive for the union's budget.

"It's what's going on in law enforcement in Marin. The deputies can't afford to live here," said Sgt. Brian Fay, president of the Deputy Sheriffs Association of Marin.

Most deputies work three 12-hour shifts a week and face lengthy commutes. After spending 12 hours on the job and four hours commuting, there isn't much time left at home other than for sleep before they have to return to Marin.

"They come up and stay here in the jail," said Fay, a jail staffer.

Supervisor Steve Kinsey says it's an idea the county should pursue, possibly buying rather than renting a house.

"It's an outstanding idea as far as I'm concerned," he said.

He said he's also confident there are answers to possible liability concerns regarding the county being a landlord for workers.

"If a county like San Mateo has overcome the liability obstacles, I'm sure we can," he said.

Supervisor Hal Brown is also interested in the idea.

The goal, Doyle said, is to recruit and retain deputies in a competitive market.

"It is part of the whole picture of us trying to attract qualified candidates, wherever they might be," he said.

Other Marin agencies have wrestled with the high cost of housing as well.

The North Marin Water District, for example, bought a two-bedroom cottage in Point Reyes Station and is renting it to an employee, who is paying just 40 percent of the rent in exchange for being on-call for West Marin calls. And San Rafael recently approved a low-interest home loan for its fire chief, who moved to Marin from Glendale.

Copyright 2007 Marin Independent Journal

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