Wages worry sheriff

Curry County sheriff’s deputy Dean Marney fills out a warning for speeding Monday afternoon north of Clovis. (Staff photo: Mike Linn)

By Ryan Lengerich: CNJ staff writer

Curry County Sheriff Roger Hatcher said Monday he plans to request a pay raise for his deputies in response to a recent increase awarded city police.

Hatcher said he will ask county commissioners to bump pay for certified deputies from $11.58 to at least $15.45, the minimum salary approved by the city for an officer with one year experience.

The Clovis City Commission on Thursday approved a $714,000 salary increase for its police officers.
Certified deputies have finished training school, which Hatcher said takes at least one year.

Hatcher said he is concerned the current pay gap will cause deputies to jump on board with the city.

“I can’t in good conscience tell my guys, ‘Don’t go over there,’” Hatcher said. “My advice for them to take care of their families is to go where the money is at.”

Deputy Dean Marney said he believes the sheriff’s department will lose a few deputies to the police department because of the pay.

“Most guys like working here, it’s more relaxed than the police department, but pay is definitely a factor if you can make $16 an hour there instead of $12 an hour here,” said Marney, who has worked seven years in law enforcement and makes $12 an hour.

Clovis Police Chief Bill Carey said the police department is short 17 officers on the street. Hatcher said he is at about half staff with 15 deputies.

Hatcher said the county can’t afford to lose any deputies. The deputy-to-resident ratio in Curry County is about one deputy for every 3,500 county residents. All other counties in the state, he said, have less than 1,700 residents to each deputy.

“It would completely devastate the sheriff’s office. We would go into a state of emergency,” Hatcher said. “They have so many vacancies at the city, that if every one of my guys put in applications and got hired they would take them all.”

Marney said he doesn’t believe that will happen, and he personally doesn’t plan on applying with the Clovis Police Department. Even so, he said Curry County deputies deserve more money.

Hatcher said he will submit a letter to county commissioners this week and hopes to see the issue discussed at their Nov. 16 meeting.

Funding pay increases could be difficult for the county, which is facing a budget crunch commissioners blame mostly on jail overcrowding. The city agreed to salary increases despite admittedly not knowing where the funds would be found.

County Commission Chairperson Kathrynn Tate said the county will not spend money without first identifying a funding source.

“I really admire and respect our deputies. They have a tough job and of all the people they are out there protecting us,” Tate said. “I really wish somehow there was a way that we could get them more money.”

Hatcher said there are ways to fund a pay increase.
“They do have some alternatives. Nobody likes to hear about it but it’s some additional taxes,” he said.

Commissioner Tim Ashley said the issue is similar to the staff shortage at the jails. In September, the County Commission voted unanimously for 10 percent raises for detention officers, sergeants and lieutenants at the jail.

“We have got to take a hard look at this and see what we can do to budget it,” Ashley said. “Otherwise I think we are going to have a hard time attracting and keeping sheriff’s officers.”

County Commissioner Albin Smith said he expects salary increase discussions to be specific to deputies.

“Every county employee doesn’t have the same responsibilities as the next county employee,” Smith said. “I am going to look at them as different jobs have different responsibilities and need to be compensated differently.”

Hatcher said he supports the raise for city law enforcement, but he criticized the City Commission approving a sudden jump in pay and not raising salaries annually.

“The demand for law enforcement officers is great right now,” he said. “In order for the counties, police department and state agencies to come up with the manpower they need, they have to pony up.”