WINFIELD — Law enforcement officials urged Putnam County commissioners to raise the pay of high-ranking officers in the county’s sheriff’s department during a Thursday budget meeting.
An entry-level Putnam deputy has a competitive salary compared to neighboring counties, but as officers climb through the ranks that begins to change, according to information given to commissioners Thursday by the Putnam County Deputy Sheriffs Association.
Starting Putnam deputies make about $41,000, according to the group. That’s about $1,000 more than Kanawha County deputies and $6,000 more than Cabell County deputies.
But sergeants in the Putnam sheriff’s department earn about $6,000 less than their peers in Kanawha County, and Putnam’s chief deputy has the lowest salary of the three counties (although Cabell’s is higher only by a few dollars).
Putnam County Sheriff Steve Deweese and others said Thursday those salaries can make it difficult to keep high-ranking officers, and even discourage officers from moving up the ladder.
Deweese asked commissioners to increase his salary budget to give raises to corporals, sergeants and the chief deputy.
Corporals would receive a 6.8 percent raise. For sergeants it would be 14.6 percent, lieutenants would see a 14.6 percent increase and 10.2 percent for the chief deputy, Deweese said.
Ryan Lockhart, president of the Putnam County Deputy Sheriffs Association, wrote a letter to Deweese supporting the pay raises.
“Officers come here and as they progress in their career they realize they are not going to make as much money as they would at another agency,” Lockhart said in an interview. “The officer who has the foresight and looking to the future is sitting down and crunching the numbers.”
Although Kanawha County is more populous, each sheriff’s deputy is taking the same number of calls, according to Lockhart’s group. A Kanawha deputy fields about 1.9 calls per hour; for a Putnam deputy, that amount is 2.1 calls per hour.
“It’s very similar [workload] even though the populations are vastly different,” Lockhart said.
Because of the pay disparities, Putnam County officers often choose to join other agencies, said Eric Embree, a member of the county’s Civil Service Board.
“We just lost a very good young deputy with a college degree to the State Police,” Embree said. They spent about $10,000 on training for the officer and $3,000 on uniforms, he said.
Embree said finding new deputies can be a daunting task, so retention is vital.
“I can tell you it’s very difficult. We can test 110 to 115 people and come out with 10 people who have passed the written, mental and physical tests from state agencies,” Embree said.
It’s even becoming harder to find people who want to take promotions from an entry level position to a supervisor position, he said.
“It’s about five times the paperwork, five times the responsibility, for maybe a quarter-an-hour raise,” Embree said. “It’s hard to get someone to look at that situation and think that it’s worth it.”
When Deweese took office in 2012, he said he knew pay raises would be one of his biggest challenges. Deweese and the sheriff’s association have been working on pay raises over the course of about seven years.
Deweese said they received a small pay raise last fiscal year for deputies, but not higher-ranking officers.
Besides pay raises, the sheriff said his department needs $41,000 for cell phones for his staff. Deputies could use mobile hotspots to write their reports and scan license plates out in the field, rather than go back to an office to write and file their reports, Deweese said.
He said the phones take priority over raises because the officers need them to do their jobs.
Commissioners will decide the budget questions on March 28. Putnam County Commission President Ron Foster said much will depend on how much revenue the county brings in.
“We think our deputies do a good job, and we’re going to what we can for them,” Foster said. “But I just don’t have enough information in the budget to be able to give you anything other than that.”