Caro­line deputies ask for step in­creases

Times-Record - - Front Page - By ABBY AN­DREWS aan­drews@car­o­line­times­

PRE­STON — Sev­eral Caro­line County sher­iff’s deputies and their sup­port­ers spoke at a pub­lic bud­get hear­ing Tues­day, March 13, at the Pre­ston fire hall, about the need for the Caro­line County com­mis­sion­ers to fund longevity pay for the agency in the fis­cal year 2019 bud­get.

Justin Reibly, pres­i­dent of the Caro­line County Fra­ter­nal Order of Po­lice, said step in­creases for deputies were frozen 11 years ago; since then, deputies have re­ceived no pay raises other than a few small cost of liv­ing in­creases pro­vided for all county em­ploy­ees.

As a re­sult, the county’s sher­iff’s of­fice ranks near the bot­tom of all lo­cal law en­force­ment agen­cies, and deputies with many years of ser­vice are not mak­ing more than deputies with far less ex­pe­ri­ence.

Reibly asked the com­mis­sion­ers to con­sider adding $252,000 to the sher­iff’s of­fice’s bud­get in FY19, to fund step in­creases for all deputies with at least five years of ser­vice.

If not, Reibly said, the com­mis­sion­ers could find the county’s law en­force­ment agency in cri­sis, when there are not enough deputies to re­spond to calls for ser­vice.

“This is about re­ten­tion,” Reibly said. “A large num­ber of em­ploy­ees are al­ready look­ing else­where. There are other is­sues but the ma­jor­ity of the rea­son is pay.”

Reibly said he is one of seven deputies with con­di­tional of­fers from other agen­cies.

“A lot of us are from Caro­line, my­self in­cluded,” Reibly said. “We en­joy what we do and want to keep work­ing here, but we can’t af­ford it.”

The com­mis­sion­ers heard from sev­eral other deputies who are in the process of in­ter­view­ing with the Mary­land State Po­lice or Mary­land De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources Po­lice.

RJ Helmer said he was hired by the Caro­line County Sher­iff’s Of­fice in 2013; he came from the Cam­bridge Po­lice De­part­ment, but left when it was go­ing through a seven-year freeze of pay raises.

Helmer said the sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion in Caro­line County has led to a “re­volv­ing door” of deputies dur­ing his five years with the agency. He now has a con­di­tional of­fer with the De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources Po­lice.

“Re­ten­tion needs to be at the top of the list,” Helmer said. “Pro­vid­ing good of­fi­cers (to serve the county’s cit­i­zens) should be at the top of your

pri­or­ity list.”

Gan­non Lyons, who was hired by the sher­iff’s of­fice in 2013, said he has com­pleted the ma­jor­ity of the process to be hired else­where.

As a res­i­dent of Caro­line County, with a wife and three young chil­dren who also live in the county, Lyons said he wants to see the “re­volv­ing door” is­sue in the sher­iff’s of­fice ad­dressed.

“I’m leav­ing be­cause of the lack of longevity pay,” Lyons said. “I can drive 20 min­utes and, in a cou­ple of years, make as much as my su­per­vi­sors here with 20-plus years of ex­pe­ri­ence do.

“But I will still live here, and I’m here as some­one who wants to see it get bet­ter here.”

Jake Ride­out, who has five years of ser­vice with the sher­iff’s of­fice, said he had planned to spend his en­tire ca­reer in Caro­line County but is in the process of leav­ing for the Mary­land State Po­lice.

“Look­ing at my su­per­vi­sors’ pay, state troop­ers with five or six years of ex­pe­ri­ence make as much as they do,” Ride­out said. “They will all leave if they’re not paid what they de­serve.”

Bryan Peris said he came to the sher­iff’s of­fice from the Mary­land Tran­sit Au­thor­ity Po­lice in 2006. He also is look­ing else­where now.

“I don’t want to go any­where else, but I’m try­ing to make a liv­ing, do­ing a dan­ger­ous job,” Peris said. “I don’t think the sher­iff’s of­fice would re­cover from what could hap­pen (if the step in­creases are not funded.)”

Thomas Hur­ley, pres­i­dent of the Cam­bridge Fra­ter­nal Order of Po­lice, said the Cam­bridge Po­lice De­part­ment still is feel­ing the ef­fects of los­ing 32 of­fi­cers in seven years — only four of those to re­tire­ment — when it froze pay raises.

“The only (of­fi­cers) left to pro­mote are the ones you’ve had a lit­tle trou­ble with, which can then lead to law­suits,” Hur­ley said.

The county needs three things in place to main­tain a qual­ity sher­iff’s of­fice, Hur­ley said: re­cruit­ment, re­ten­tion and good re­tire­ment ben­e­fits.

“I don’t know what price you can put on your chil­dren, your grand­chil­dren, your prop­erty,” Hur­ley said. “You have to take care of your deputies now. Cam­bridge will take years to re­cover.”

Fed­er­als­burg Po­lice Chief Don­ald Nagel said he sup­ported the longevity pay re­quest for the sher­iff’s of­fice.

“In­creas­ing pub­lic safety is most im­por­tant for bring­ing in new res­i­dents,” Nagel said, which in turn in­creases the tax base.

How­ever, all law en­force­ment agen­cies are hav­ing trou­ble at­tract­ing qual­ity ap­pli­cants now, Nagel said.

“No one wants to be po­lice,” Nagel said. “Or they do, but they can’t pass the test. Or they pass the test, but they then move on (to an­other agency.) They use town po­lice as a step­ping stone.”

Steve Stouf­fer said he left the Caro­line County Sher­iff’s Of­fice 16 years ago, also be­cause of pay.

“The county said, ‘If you want to make more money else­where, go ahead,’” Stouf­fer said.

Stouf­fer said with the im­prov­ing econ­omy, fewer peo­ple are ap­ply­ing for law en­force­ment jobs. That leaves an agency like Caro­line’s, with low pay, ripe for poach­ing of its ex­pe­ri­enced of­fi­cers, who have al­ready been trained on the county’s dime.

“You will lose all that ex­pe­ri­ence,” Stouf­fer said. “This has to be a pri­or­ity.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of other agen­cies that work with deputies also spoke in their sup­port.

Cara Cal­loway, su­per­vi­sor of child pro­tec­tive ser­vices with the Caro­line County De­part­ment of So­cial Ser­vices, said sher­iff’s deputies are among the most well-trained and com­pe­tent of­fi­cers when handling cases of child abuse and ne­glect.

“They re­spond at all hours; they work with our agency to com­plete train­ing,” Cal­loway said. “I have seen the ef­fects of in­com­pe­tent law en­force­ment.”

Joe Ri­ley, in­terim state’s at­tor­ney for Caro­line County, and Jonathan Newell, for­mer state’s at­tor­ney and cur­rent Caro­line County cir­cuit court judge, both spoke of deputies’ pro­fes­sion­al­ism when work­ing with pros­e­cu­tors.

“We need some­one in court who can do the job, be­cause cit­i­zens, when they ask for help, ex­pect com­pe­tence,” Newell said.

Sher­iff Randy Bounds first thanked the com­mis­sion­ers for com­mit­ting last year to a new build­ing for the sher­iff’s of­fice.

Bounds said he also ap­pre­ci­ates the cost of liv­ing in­creases the sher­iff’s of­fice has re­ceived over the years, but the freeze on step in­creases has led to a “pay com­pres­sion,” re­sult­ing in deputies with 11 years of ser­vice mak­ing the same as those with five.

The cur­rent 1.75 per­cent pay in­crease for county em­ploy­ees pro­posed in the FY19 bud­get does not fit in with the sher­iff’s of­fice’s pay scale, Bounds said.

Af­ter the pub­lic com­ments, com­mis­sion­ers said they would take the re­quest into con­sid­er­a­tion over the next sev­eral weeks as they bal­ance the bud­get.

“We don’t have un­lim­ited rev­enue, but we cer­tainly have un­lim­ited re­quests,” said Com­mis­sioner Dan Franklin. “It’s hard not to make any one agency feel slighted.”

Franklin said he was in law en­force­ment for 16 years.

“Be­ing a cop is a thank­less job with long hours,” he said. “No one gets in it to get rich.”

Franklin said the com­mis­sion­ers would have to do some pri­or­i­tiz­ing.

“We have done what we’ve had to do when there is a grave need, whether it is pop­u­lar or not,” he said.

Pres­i­dent Larry Porter said since he took of­fice in 2010, the com­mis­sion­ers have been com­mit­ted to pub­lic safety, cre­at­ing a new of­fice for emer­gency dis­patch­ers, adding four more deputies to the sher­iff’s of­fice with a fifth pro­posed in the com­ing fis­cal year and com­mit­ting to a new build­ing for the sher­iff’s of­fice.

“It’s been made very clear tonight (the longevity pay is­sue) is very im­por­tant,” Porter said. “My con­cern is we will work very hard this year (to meet the re­quest), and next year you will come back to ask for more money, or you’re go­ing to leave.”

Porter said the $252,000 re­quest rep­re­sents about a 1-cent in­crease on the prop­erty tax rate.

“We have to pay peo­ple within our rev­enue stream; we are re­quired by law to bal­ance the bud­get,” Porter said.

Vice Pres­i­dent Wil­bur Le­ven­good said the sher­iff’s of­fice is not the only county agency that has been hurt by pay com­pres­sion, or “bunch­ing.”

“Pub­lic works is still only at 75 per­cent staffed,” Le­ven­good said.

Porter said the com­mis­sion­ers will hold sev­eral bud­get work­shops over the com­ing weeks, all open to the pub­lic.

As it stands, the com­mis­sion­ers have about $355,000 more in re­quests for fund­ing than they do in pro­jected rev­enue for FY19.

A se­cond pub­lic bud­get hear­ing is sched­uled for 6 p.m. Tues­day, May 8, at the Greens­boro Vol­un­teer Fire Com­pany community hall, 13781 Greens­boro Road, Greens­boro.

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