GREENFIELD — Hancock County sheriff’s deputies will make nearly $50,000 next year — a 7 percent raise department leaders say still falls unfairly short of Greenfield officers’ salaries.
Sheriff’s department officials argue their deputies still are underpaid, pointing to wages at the Greenfield Police Department, which patrols a fraction of the county department’s 307-square-mile territory but whose officers make more.
Deputies’ pay has been a point of contention for years, as county officials debated how to fund salary increases. In 2018, county officials will put $170,000 toward raises for sheriff’s deputies, increasing their base pay by about $3,200 annually.
But even with the raise, they’ll still make less than their counterparts at the Greenfield Police Department, which covers the city’s 13.6 square miles with roughly the same number of officers. A Greenfield patrolman with three years of experience, for example, will earn about $2,000 more than a sheriff’s deputy with the same experience.
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Sheriff’s department leaders say they’re grateful county officials have allocated funding to pay the department’s 40 employees a little more in 2018, but they worry deputies will look for work elsewhere if it means higher pay, especially when they compare their paychecks to officers working in the same city.
When budget discussions began earlier this summer, sheriff’s chief deputy Maj. Brad Burkhart asked county officials to consider raising sheriff’s department salaries by about 13 percent, which would bring their pay in line with Greenfield’s base pay of $50,496.
Greenfield also pays police officers a bonus for each year they’ve worked for the city. They earn $150 per year of service up to 20 years, or $3,000, said Greenfield Police Chief Jeff Rasche. Hancock County scrapped longevity pay years ago when the economy’s bottom fell out; it’s never been reinstated, meaning a 30-year deputy who’s never been promoted makes the same as a deputy who’s been with the department for two years.
But county leaders agreed they couldn’t afford to dole out the estimated $240,330 needed to fund Burkhart’s request for 13-percent raises. Instead, they settled on 7 percent raises to employees’ base pay, estimated to cost about $170,000 more a year.
Sheriff’s department employees are set to receive the largest pay raises of any county employee. The county council has set aside enough funding to give all other full-time county employees $1,000 more in 2018. Department heads, who will receive a lump sum based on the size of their staff, will decide how that funding is divvied up among their employees.
Council president Bill Bolander said once the council grants raises, the county has to be able to sustain them, and officials can’t use money they don’t have on hand. It’s not that sheriff’s deputies aren’t deserving, he said, but they have to maintain a budget the county can afford.
“If we spend money we don’t have, at some point down the road, you have to pay for it,” he said. “We’ll continue to work toward getting them to where they need to be.”
Burkhart said he fears deputies could leave the department in search of higher-paying jobs nearby.
No employees have recently left the department citing low pay as a reason, Burkhart said.
Sheriff’s Lt. Donnie Munden, who’s been with the department for 30 years, said he didn’t join the force all those years ago to make a hefty paycheck, but he’s frustrated knowing other agencies of the same size or smaller pay more.
He works a part-time job three or four times a week to help bring extra cash into his household; most of his colleagues pick up odd jobs, too, he said.
He shares concerns about deputies leaving for other departments and said lower pay might keep candidates from ever applying. When he first signed on, about 100 people would apply for each open position at the department. Now, that number has dwindled to about 25, he said.
Salary might not be the only reason, but he’s sure it’s a factor, he said.
Sheriff Mike Shepherd said sheriff’s deputies and Greenfield police officers do similar work, leaving their families every day to protect and serve Hancock County citizens. They should be compensated equally, he said.
“We’re doing the same job,” he said. “Why are we being paid less?”
Greenfield Police Department officers make more than Hancock County Sheriff’s Department deputies, a point of debate among local law enforcement leaders.
Here’s a look at some of the 2018 salaries:
Hancock County: $57,475
Hancock County: $53,580
Third year patrolman/deputy
Hancock County: $49,975
*Listed salaries do not include longevity pay for Greenfield police officers
Source: Hancock County Sheriff’s Department and Greenfield Police Department