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Sheriff: Deputies are underpaid

July 23, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Washington County Sheriff's patrol deputies earn several thousand dollars below the national and state averages in pay, salary levels that would qualify some officers for public assistance, Sheriff Charles Mades said Monday.

Mades and other department officials also said the low average pay and a starting salary of about $27,000 make it difficult to attract and keep quality deputies in the county.

"It's very hard to recruit at these entry-level salaries," said Lt. Randy E. Wilkenson, patrol commander. "We don't have a long waiting list of people to be hired here."

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The average pay for Washington County patrol deputies in 2000 was $34,611, according to the Sheriff's Department's 2000 Annual Report. That's $7,929 lower than the 2000 state average of $42,540, and $5,979 lower than the 2000 national average of $40,590, according to the Maryland and U.S. departments of labor.

The averages were determined by dividing salaries by the number of deputies.

The Sheriff's Department Patrol Division has 59 sworn deputies, including administrative personnel. The entire department employees 200 people and has a budget of about $12 million.

"I think it's time that the (Washington County) commissioners really have to look at that, because that is really a drain on us," Mades said of the salaries.

Chief Deputy Douglas W. Mullendore said it takes about a year from the time a deputy is hired and trained until that person is on the road. Once they get certified, he said some leave the county and move to others that pay more.

Mullendore said Frederick County offers deputies a starting salary of about $33,000.

"They can have all the benefits that they can have here, it's just that they're making more money (in Frederick County)," Mullendore said.

"Bread and milk cost the same in Frederick County as it does here, but we just got to make it stretch a little bit more here," Mades said. "We've got people that would qualify for public assistance."

Washington County judicial deputies averaged $36,920 in 2000, and the average pay for detention center deputies was $31,886. The Maryland and U.S. departments of labor did not break down the state and national averages for judicial and detention center deputies.

Washington County Commissioners Vice President Paul Swartz said he thinks the deputies are underpaid and that he has a plan that would raise their salaries.

"Our deputies are underpaid - both in the judicial and the patrol divisions," Swartz said. "The salaries certainly need adjustment ..."

He said the same holds true for other county employees and teachers.

"You can go down the list," Swartz said.

To improve the salaries of deputies, Swartz said he is proposing to the state that the sales tax in Washington County be increased by one cent, which he said would generate a little more than $16 million in new revenue. He said the property tax rate should then be lowered by three cents to offset the increased sales tax.

The money generated through the proposed sales tax increase could also be used to increase funding for the Washington County Board of Education and agricultural preservation, Swartz said.

"Otherwise, I don't know of any other plan ... that would lower taxes and increase spending," he said.

Commissioner Bert Iseminger said the county is conducting a wage study to see where the county stands in salaries of all county employees, including deputies.

"There's no question some of these other counties are in a position to pay the deputies more than we pay them," Iseminger said.

He said, however, that he's looking out for the best interests of all county employees.

"There's more than just looking at the sheriff's deputies," Iseminger said. "I try to treat all employees how I would want to be treated."

Iseminger said a couple of years ago the commissioners raised the salaries of deputies by one grade, giving them 8 percent raises.

According to the county's wage and classification scale, patrol deputies earn a minimum of $27,770 and a maximum of $44,431, and first-class deputies earn a minimum of $29,991 and a maximum of $47,968.

Wilkenson said, however, that it takes years of service before deputies even reach the scale's midpoint salaries.

Mades said the department's senior deputy, who has 25 years of experience, earns $44,321.

County Human Resources Director Alan Davis said deputies do not receive step increases and their raises are determined by the commissioners.

Mades said the raises average about 3 percent a year.

He also said deputies have discussed joining a union in the hopes of raising their salaries.

"They say if I can't make the money here, I'm going somewhere else. If a union can get me that money, I'm going there," Mades said.

Mades said he thinks a scale should be in place that allows deputies to determine what their salaries will look like in the future.

"Our guys should be able to look down the road at what they're going to be able to make," he said.

Iseminger didn't support or oppose a union for deputies when asked Monday.

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