Ramsey County commissioners on Tuesday approved a big jump in Sheriff's Office personnel, but only after a peppery exchange over the potential cost to taxpayers and whether the county jail is filling up with folks who don't belong there.

The County Board authorized the hiring of 14 correctional officers, two supervisors and seven civilians, at a cost of up to $1.3 million for the remainder of the budget year.

One goal of the measure, supporters said, is to cut down on forced and excessive overtime pay. Even so, Commissioner Janice Rettman objected to using contingency funds.

"I will support this for 2018 if something else is cut," she said. "But to bring it in right now infers a tax levy increase and we have not discussed what taxpayers can bear."

It wasn't clear what the net jump in costs will be.

And Commissioner Toni Carter triggered a long exchange over the need to work out what portion of the county's detention space ends up being used for people whose primary issue is mental illness.

The majority of commissioners stressed the dysfunctional nature of what is going on in the Sheriff's Office and the need to correct that for the sake of sane management.

"There's a downside to using sick time to accommodate family needs" amid forced and constant overtime, Commissioner Jim McDonough said. "It's not a good situation."

To Rettman's concern that overtime will happen anyway due to public safety crises, McDonough said: "The sheriff has committed to monitoring overtime so there are not year-end surprises."

Board Chairwoman Victoria Reinhardt said the wider issues of taxes and spending can be sorted through later. "We will have time in 2018-19 budget discussions to zero in on, 'OK, what is it that we're doing?' " she said.

Carter agreed that forced overtime raises questions of whether staffers are "healthy and well." But she pushed on another issue: The use of jail cells for people with mental health issues. Most of her colleagues agreed that needed to be examined closely.

"Mental health is a disease, not necessarily for correctional officers to sort out," McDonough said. "We have to sort that [issue] out, though I'm not sure the sheriff solves that in isolation when police officers in our cities bring folks to jail."

Sheriff Jack Serier told the board he agreed the issue was valid and needed to be explored, with data gathered on what's taking place.

"Is this the best place for society for them to be?" he said. "The answer is not always 'Yes.' "

David Peterson • 651-925-5039