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 …
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.
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.”