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September 29, 2011 9:13 am

EDITORIAL: Law enforcement requires adequate wages

Written by Don Amend

Over the past two years, the Park County Sheriff’s Office has experienced considerable turnover, prompting Sheriff Scott Steward to raise concerns about the county-wide pay plan adopted by the Park County Commission last year.

Early this year, the commission told all the county department heads that new employees in their departments would have to be paid according to the first step on the pay schedule, which, for sheriff’s deputies, was $15.63 per hour. That rate was a reduction of nearly $2 from the previous starting pay for deputies.

Last month, Steward told the commission that the prescribed starting wage was too low, and he did not believe he would be able to fill three positions open on his staff at that wage. Further, he has lost officers to other departments, including the Cody Police Department, which was offering higher pay even when the beginning wage at the sheriff’s department was $17.52 an hour, and lowering the beginning pay level would make the problem worse.

When he approached the commission last month, commissioners unanimously approved Steward’s request to continue to pay new officers at the previous starting rate.

It was the right thing to do.

The problem resulted from a study of county salaries intended to put salaries in line with the demands of each position and with comparable positions in the private sector. Somehow, in that comparison, a lower beginning wage for sheriff’s department officers became part of the pay plan when it was adopted.

Why the county pay plan contained that flaw is uncertain, but it definitely needs to be corrected. Law enforcement is difficult work, often at difficult hours and sometimes involving significant danger. It puts great pressure, not only on the officers themselves, but on their families as well.  Public safety demands a stable sheriff’s office that is fully staffed with well-qualified officers, and maintaining such a department requires that the officers receive adequate pay.

Ultimately, the market determines what that adequate pay is, and, as Sheriff Steward told the commission, if the pay is too low, he will be unable to attract qualified applicants for the positions he has open. In addition, he will be unable to keep officers who can receive higher pay somewhere else.

Trite as the old saying might be, it still is true that you get what you pay for.

We understand that keeping the beginning wage for the sheriff’s department at the higher level likely will have an impact on other parts of the county’s budget, and it may generate requests from other departments for adjustments in the county’s pay schedule. Still, we believe the county commission made the right decision in agreeing with the sheriff’s request to keep the higher wage in place.

As one of the commissioners said during the discussion of Steward’s request, “I don’t think we have a choice.”

3 comments

  • Comment Link September 29, 2011 11:13 am posted by Disgusted taxpayer

    Law enforcement requires adequate wages...no bull...so do average workers who get poverty wages around here.

  • Comment Link October 01, 2011 10:43 am posted by LEguy

    .....starting deputies make the same as guys who have been there up two 2 years....guys with 5-10 years on are at least 15% BEHIND what others around the state make...the higher you promote the further behind your pay gets as well in keeping with the state averages for things like investigator, Sgt., Lt. , Under-Sheriff. Tack on the now 50/50 insurance and ultra high decutables of $10,000 for a family....who would want to stay????? Comissioners have been content with this for years.....

  • Comment Link October 08, 2011 4:27 am posted by Christopher Kuntz

    Sad story. We let these Law Enforcement Pros down, yet, our elected local leaders squander tax dollars for such lemons as fiber optic fiascos and aquatic duds. Meanwhile, the men and women who keep us safe, get little compensation for dealing with an increasing number of nanny state, waiting on a government hand out, citizenry. These folks we have in local offices want to raise our taxes for their pet projects, like hospital expansions and the already above mentioned, which make no mistake, some of those elected officials will likely get a few "perks" from the contractors, who will benefit from your tax dollars. Yet these same elected officials do not put a 1% sales tax increase exclusive to Law Enforcement salaries, training and equipment to better the readiness of our LE Pros. We, as Americans, support our troops getting pay raises, while fighting wars of blood & faith, yet we turn our backs on our own here at home, who protect us, here in Park County. What if our soldiers traded flags, and decided to fight for another country, because that country offered them more in pay and benefits? That is a rather sobering thought. I say, add a 1% sales tax increase every year between 1 May through 30 September in Park County. This is the height of Park County's earning's season. We are flush with tourists, and they are flush with disposable income. If not, then expect LE Pros to come to WY, get hired on as a patrol officer, complete the WY LE training academy, work a year or two, and move on to greener pastures. I have spoken to a few LE pros in Park County, and find it stunning they do not maintain what I call a high standard of pistol marksmanship. From what I gathered, they are limited in their ability to conduct range marksmanship with their specific / assigned weapon(s). Promises do not pay mortgages, nor do they result in center mass hits, only action & adequate income, through proper funding & training of our LE apparatus can.

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