County first responder department heads ask for pay raises for employees

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Hancock County Sheriff Brad Burkhart seeks an increase in pay for his 50 deputies

HANCOCK COUNTY — A look at pay for law enforcement officers around the state shows Hancock County Sheriff’s Department deputy officials are behind the curve for starting salaries and money earned during service when compared to some similar agencies.

It’s why Sheriff Brad Burkhart is asking Hancock County officials to take the starting deputy salary from $61,000 per year to at least $70,000 per year. Burkhart says the increase is necessary for his department to keep pace with other law enforcement agencies that do the same type of work but offer better pay.

“I’m not trying to be the leader when it comes to pay — I’m just trying to be competitive,” Burkhart said. “I’m just trying to keep pace and be competitive with the rest of the agencies … People forget we are a border county to Indianapolis, and we do a great job of keeping that crime at bay.”

Burkhart noted he’s often peppered with emails from current law enforcement officers with posts from other agencies showing how their starting pay is currently at $70,000 or above. That, Burkhart says, makes it difficult for the Sheriff’s Department to recruit the best and the brightest when his department starting pay is nearly $10,000 below other agency starting pay positions.

“My guys are as good as everybody else,” Burkhart said. “The numbers I’m going off of are based on 2024, so other places are actually going to continue to go up, and we’re still way behind.”

During a recent budget session last week, Hancock County Council member Jim Shelby spoke to the council about possibly giving the county’s 50 deputies a standard 3.5% raise with perhaps an additional $5,000 bump. However, Burkhart noted, that would still leave his department several thousand dollars shy of the starting rate of $70,000, and that would continue to make it difficult for his office to attract and keep good people.

“When we have a hiring process, if we are not competitive with the surrounding agencies, people looking into getting into law enforcement or staying in the profession are going to go where there is more money,” Burkhart said.

Burkhart based his pay increase request off of a salary matrix from the Indiana State Police and places like Bartholomew County and nearby Noblesville in Hamilton County — comparable in size places to Hancock County, he said.

While Burkhart said Shelby’s suggestion of a $5,000 bump in pay along with a standard 3.5% increase is a good place to start, he said county law enforcement deserves more and he plans to ask for it. Shelby’s suggestion would take starting deputy pay up to $68,135 but that’s still below 2024 salary numbers at comparable agencies ,which will increase in 2025.

“I don’t know were we’ll end up, but I’m going to continue to push,” Burkhart said “$5,000 — that’s just one person’s suggestion.”

Burkhart is not the only county first responder department head asking for a pay increase for his employees. Over at the Hancock County 911 Center, Director of Communications John Jokantas is asking for a 7% increase in pay for his 25 dispatchers.

 John Jokantas, the head of communications for the county’s 911 center, is seeking a pay increase for his 25 dispatchers.

Jokantas said his workers are finally at a place where they make a fair salary, but now the salary must be maintained in order for the department to acquire talented people through the hiring processes and, perhaps even more importantly, retain the team of people they have already worked years to train.

“We’re asking for the raises for our dispatchers only,” Jokantas said. “The deputy director and myself, we’ll only take the standard raise.”

Jokantas noted county officials have worked hard to get their dispatchers up to comparable pay rates and he appreciates that. With a starting base pay around $45,000, a first-year-anniversary dispatchers is making $46,010 this year while, Jokantas noted, a fifth-year-anniversary dispatcher makes $53,375.

“Most people are coming in around that $48,000 rate because when other county rates went up we had to get there too,” Jokantas said.

Jokantas noted his department is not asking to hire any full-time people for 2025 and if their plan of adding two new part-time people works out, they may not have to hire any more people in 2026.

Both Burkhart and Jokantas note the county is growing at tremendously fast rate, so it’s important for county officials to keep pace with pay scales due to the amount of work now being placed on first responders.

The county budget process for 2025 has many steps to go through and won’t become official until later this summer, following many more meetings.