Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond hopes the upcoming legislative session will include a pay hike for deputies.
Deputies’ pay prospects statewide face lean times, the sheriff said.
“If you look in comparison of other certified peace officers across the state, deputy sheriffs have been left behind,” Bond said. “We place an awful lot of responsibility, and certainly discretion, on these people and they need to be paid a living wage.”
While Sedalia officers have traditionally earned more than their county counterparts, the gap widened significantly in 2007, Bond said.
Starting pay for a city officer is now $30,152, versus $24,752 for the county.
That’s a problem, Bond said.
“It creates the tendency of having continual turnover,” he said. “We become a training ground for law enforcement.” The Sheriff’s Department lost two deputies to the city since the raise went into effect, Bond said.
The reasons for the differences in pay between city and county officers are many, though cities’ often-higher tax bases are a factor, Bond said.
The sheriff said he submits a salary schedule to the County Commission every year to try to address the local pay issue, but that suggestion hasn’t been approved in past years’ budgets. Bond said he wasn’t sure about his request this year, as the final county budget is due Thursday.
Even with the low pay, the sheriff’s office typically eats up the biggest part of a county’s budget, Bond said, making officials wary of increases.
When raises are meted out, they tend go out across the board to all county employees, he said.
Deputies got a merit-based raise in August, receiving up to 50 cents per hour based on longevity and position, Bond said.
Before that, a deputy with the department for 11 years made the same as one there for six months, he said.
Bond said he understands the commission’s bottom-line focus and need to deal with budget constraints, but also believes the public needs an effective and competent Sheriff's Department. Having a less experienced staff risks having a less effective and efficient staff, Bond said.
The sheriff was quick to point out the merits of his deputies. “I’m very proud of the officers I have. I think they do a fantastic job,” Bond said. “But they need to be properly compensated for the job they do.”
Where an increase would really help is in Missouri’s rural counties, Bond said, where pay can be significantly lower than here.
Bond said a recent Missouri Sheriff’s Association study showed that 35 Missouri counties had full-time deputies receiving public assistance, while in 91 counties sheriff’s deputies salaries are so low that a family of four would qualify for food stamps. Bond said he didn’t personally know of anyone on public assistance, but knows many officers that have taken on additional jobs to make ends meet.
State Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington, chairman of the Senate Interim Committee on Funding for County Sheriff Offices, agreed the situation needed to be addressed.
“If you look at some of the counties, I mean it’s pretty bad,” Griesheimer said.“They have a hard time not only getting deputies, but keeping good ones there.”
The committee will meet Thursday to discuss recommendations. Bond said he hoped to see legislation to raise base salaries to $28,000.
Griesheimer said the committee will likely recommend funding a raise via an increase in fees for civil process serving statewide. Money from the increase will go into a fund to be dispersed by a committee from the Sheriff’s Offices, he said.
Griesheimer said that while it is not a state function to fund the sheriffs directly, state officials have a responsibility to make sure law enforcement in the state functions properly.
The senator said he wanted to avoid the state determining how the money goes out. “I think the sheriffs need to determine themselves where the money needs to go,” he said.
Only deputy sheriffs would be affected by the increase, Bond said, though he added it could serve as an incentive for non-commissioned officers to become deputies.
Bond said he’s hopeful this time around, and he’s not alone. Griesheimer said he hopes to get the ball rolling for a salary increase this legislative session.
“I think we’ve got a good compromise that everybody can agree with, and hopefully we can get it passed,” he said.