ONEIDA COUNTY, NY – Oneida County’s correction officers don’t stick around long.
The turnover rate has been around 10 percent a year for the past three years.
It costs the county hundreds of thousands of dollars to fill gaps and train new people, and makes it a less safe place to work.
The $30,754 starting salary is among the lowest in the state.
“The long and short of it is that the pay isn’t where it should be,” said Luis Roman, Oneida County Deputy Sheriff’s Association Local 1249 president who represents the correction officers.
He said numbers for those who stay as long as five years are worse.
“The rule is for every four people they hire, they keep one,” he said.
The union that represents the correction officers is heading to the negotiating table at the end of the year, and Roman said he will make raises a top issue.
Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente understands the situation but said he does not want to negotiate in the press.
“I have been dealing with low salaries for case workers and correction officers, and these are the consequences,” Picente said, pointing to the Board of Legislators strong resistance when he tried to raise case worker salaries in 2008.
Undersheriff Rob Swenszkowski said he agrees that salaries need to go up.
“Training costs money,” he said. “It costs money to fill gaps when we are short.”
He also said that having fewer experienced officers on the job increases the potential for liability.
“We want officers who have experience and value their jobs and can survive on a fair wage,” Swenszkowski said.
He noted that many people use the Oneida County Correctional Facility as an entry point into law enforcement because they know the jobs are easy to get due to the turnover. They get training and bide their time there, only to move into higher paid law enforcement jobs elsewhere.
Even road patrol deputies with Oneida County have a higher starting salary than correction officers, at $37,870, he noted.
What’s more, with the state prisons and psychiatric facilities in the area, there are many higher-paid jobs available nearby.
At the Central New York Psychiatric Center in Marcy, the starting salary is $39,014, and within two years officers make $46,990, he said.
“To make $46,990 at the Oneida County jail you’d have to be there nine or 10 years,” he said.
The jail has about 235 correction officers. In 2014, 25 people resigned, three retired and two were fired, county records show. So far this year, 15 people have resigned and six have retired.
The Sheriff’s Office spends between $325,000 and $350,000 a year to train and equip new officers.
Oneida County also is out of step with other counties’ jail salary scales, Roman said.
Niagara County starts its correction officers at $34,754, and Broome at $42,191, he said.
Ronald Walsh, president of the state Law Enforcement Union Council 82, said Oneida County’s pay scale is low for the size of its jail.
“The salary is just too low for the dangerous work they do,” he said. “The jails that have better pay retain the officers.”