HANCOCK COUNTY — Pay for beginning deputies and those with less than nine years of experience has fallen behind when compared to other law enforcement departments, Sheriff Brad Burkhart told a joint session of the Hancock County Commissioners and Hancock County Council earlier this week.
Burkhart presented a pay matrix to county officials showing officers with the Greenfield Police Department and Bartholomew County, a comparably sized county, are making several thousand dollars more each year during the first nine years of service.
While Burkhart told county leaders he knows nothing can be done about the pay deficiency for 2024, he wants county officials to get the issue on their radar so they can come up with a way to pay Sheriff’s deputies more during the first decade of service in years to come.
If county officials don’t increase the pay, Burkhart fears his department will lose deputies to other law enforcement agencies.
“There is a substantial difference in salaries and those difference go up until year nine of service,” Burkhart said.
Burkhart noted a first-year Hancock County Sheriff’s Department deputy makes $54,000 a year compared to a GPD officer who makes $61,815 during the first year, a $7,815 difference. The difference increases during the second year of service and shows a HCSD deputy makes $56,000 compared to a GPD officer who will make $64,757, a $8,207 difference. The difference, however, goes down gradually and almost catches up during year nine of service where a HCSD officer will make $67,000 compared to a GPD officer who will make $67,910.
Burkhart also noted his department is well behind other Sheriff departments in the state including Bartholomew County where their first year deputies make $60,081.
“This is for 2023 and we don’t know where 2024 numbers are going, but Bartholomew County officials told me they are hoping to go on the (Indiana) State Police matrix which makes more,” Burkhart said. “If I just try to go to 2023, the other departments will continue to add and we’re still going to be behind, but it is my belief we need to stay comparable at least to our local department.”
County officials have discussed giving each department the equivalent of $1,700 per employee for pay increases in 2024, but Burkhart noted that will not allow his department enough to catch up.
“There just isn’t enough funding there to get us to where we need to be,” Burkhart said. “If we don’t do something to keep things somewhat steady we’re just going to get behind again.”
Two years ago, county lawmakers gave the Sheriff’s Department raises in order to keep up with other department pay scales. County officials say they were able to do so because cash balances were higher than targeted creating a surplus, but that money will continue to go down and officials don’t want to create a deficit.
Council member Keely Butrum noted as county officials are crafting the 2024 budgets they are getting more and more requests from departments to add employees and increase pay in the immediate future.
“Across the county, we have far more requests than we will be able to meet so that is all up in the air until we determine what we can and can’t do,” Butrum said.
Still, she understands Burkhart’s plight and said “I would love to be working on police pay so that Hancock County remains a competitive pay place.”
Butrum pointed out the GPD did not get their officers to the higher pay scale until after county officials made their most substantial increase in pay to the Sheriff’s Department two years ago.
“So, that was in response to the Hancock County change,” Butrum said. “This is definitely something worth keeping an eye on.”
Butrum also noted county officials feel good about the fact the Sheriff’s pension plan is “far superior,” she said, with lifetime benefits compared to what GPD officers get in retirement, so for people who are committed to working for the county in law enforcement, it will pay off in the end.
“On a technicality, if you really want to compare apples-to-apples there is a formula for calculating the present value of a future income stream,” Butrum said. “There is a large number difference, but the average person isn’t thinking long term they’re thinking of this year’s numbers.”
Burkhart acknowledged his department does offer comparable pay and more in the second decade of service, even passing the GPD in year 10, offering $68,000 per year compared to $67,910 at the GPD, then offering $69,750 by year 17 compared to $67,910 at GPD. However, Burkhart said the numbers are based on this year’s salaries and will be changing. Plus, he’s concerned about losing young law enforcement officials who can make more elsewhere right now.
“We spend months and months trying to recruit and find good law enforcement candidates and we hate to lose them to another department that is paying more now,” Burkhart said. “Our county is requiring more and more public safety all the time and I don’t know any other way around this other than to let officials know what we’re up against.”