HENDERSON, Ky. — Six months out from a new fiscal year and county officials are already thinking about the 2021-2022 budget.
Specifically, they are considering what to do regarding increasing pay for Henderson County sheriff’s deputies.
During a Henderson County Fiscal Court meeting in early 2020, Sheriff Ed Brady read a statement to the magistrates telling them that due to retirements and retention issues, the department was heading for a personnel crunch.
Roughly eight months later, at two workshops in December, Brady and Lt. Col. David Crafton told the panel that the “crunch” had arrived. Both said that the agency was not wage-competitive with surrounding departments, specifically, the Henderson Police Department and agencies in Evansville. They said if additional road deputies left — at present there are five vacancies — the sheriff’s office would be unable to offer 24/7 coverage for the county.
Sheriff Brady and Crafton said the deputy shortage was at a critical point, and due to COVID closures, there are significant delays in getting new hires into the law enforcement academy.
While Henderson County Judge-executive Brad Schneider and Magistrates Butch Puttman and Keith Berry were in favor of giving immediate raises — paid for out of the sheriff’s 2020-2021 budget — to retain current deputies, Magistrates Charlie McCollom, Beth Moran and Tim Southard said they wanted to see a structured approach to salary increases versus across the board raises.
In later interviews with The Gleaner, McCollom, Moran and Southard promised that at budget time they’d move forward with increasing deputy salaries, but all said they wanted to see the sheriff’s office bring certain things to the table.
“They’ve had people hired in at higher salaries and then there are those who came in at lower ranks with lesser salaries,” Magistrate Moran said. “There isn’t much incentive for deputies to stay with the sheriff’s office. I want a salary structure in place so that deputies know if they do certain things and get to certain levels (of training, certification and promotions), then they get this much of a salary increase. That’s the structure I’d like to have in place before we have raises.”
“Our concern is for the whole county, and not just one group,” said Magistrate McCollom. “But I understand the sheriff’s department has competition (with other agencies). Part of what’s happened is (Sheriff Brady) has hired retirees and put them at $60,000 management jobs, so the employees (at lower ranks) didn’t get the opportunity to grow with their jobs … I think that’s part of their problem with personnel being unhappy.
“I would’ve gone with giving starting pay an increase by $1,000 or $2,000 dollars; then if you get certain certifications, get another $1,000 or $2,000,” McCollom said. “But what does it do to give across the board raises (of thousands of dollars) even to the ones already making $60,000 or $70,000?”
According to information obtained by The Gleaner, the starting pay for a sheriff’s deputy is $39,000. Those in management positions earn upward of $64,000 annually.
“I feel like we definitely need pay increases for the deputies,” Magistrate Southard said. “But I don’t think we should just add that to the total amount of the budget. I think the sheriff’s office is going to have to give a little. I’ve been taught my whole life that I can promise you anything until I write it down.
“Once we get things set down in the budget, everybody is on board and everybody knows where we stand. I just didn’t feel good about (approving blanket raises) before we work out the budget,” he said. “We have a lot of other employees, not just deputy sheriffs. I was worried about the morale of the other employees because everyone of us is doing our job.”
“I’m all for the raises and increases in salary,” Moran said. “I (also) think it’s important that the deputies see they can work their way up in the department. I think that retains them. If they feel a part of it, they will stay.”
Southard expressed agreement with Moran’s statement.
“What’s happened in the past is that someone will be moving up the ladder and then someone else gets hired in that already has certain training, but that person moves in front of the one who was working his/her way up,” Southard said. “So we’ve got to come up with some type of policy where if you do this, this and this you get to move up.”
The magistrates said they are equally concerned about losing more deputies.
“We don’t want the county to be without coverage,” Moran said. “It’s scary one way to me and the other. I’d just like some structure to be in place before there are raises. (Public safety) is a concern for me. The weight of it … when you make a decision, you try to consider all sides of it … everybody. But we are concerned, very much, all of us.”
Southard said he is concerned that losing more deputies would mean coverage lapses.
“That’s always a concern,” he said. “When our citizens dial 911, we need someone to respond, and not 30 minutes later. It’s a concern for all of us, but fixing it is a whole other issue.”
Existing promotion/pay structure
Sheriff Brady said the department currently has a pay structure and people who make ranks such as sergeant and lieutenant get a 10 percent salary increase.
Lateral transfers do not start out at the same salary as a rookie, he said. Experience, training and certifications are taken into consideration when salaries are discussed with a lateral hire.
Brady said the department is more than willing to fine-tune the pay structure as the fiscal court sees fit.
“The jail has a written pay scale that the court has already approved, and we are in talks to implement a pay scale as much like the detention center’s as we can, because it’s already been approved, and we feel the court will be comfortable with that pay scale.”
The sheriff said he has hired three retired officers to fill open administrative positions within the department. Together the three have 75 years of law enforcement experience. The retirees, all currently full-time employees of the sheriff’s office, each make more than $60,000, Brady said. However, he said, hiring retired officers saved the county more than $108,000 annually since they don’t need retirement benefits or medical insurance.
One of the retirees began his career at the sheriff’s office as court security and from there earned higher ranks within the department. He is now a captain, Brady said.
Another retiree came from the Kentucky State Police and had the same rank and roughly the same years of experience as Keith Berry did when he retired from the sheriff’s office as a lieutenant. (Berry is now a magistrate.)
The lateral transfer of this retired lieutenant into Berry’s position was a good fit for the department, Brady said, since there weren’t any deputies who either wanted the position or had earned the lieutenant rank.
He said while deputies were disappointed that there wouldn’t be immediate raises, some seemed willing to wait and see what the fiscal court will do in terms of salary adjustments.
“After the work session with the court, we did call for an informal meeting with the deputies. We discussed with them the support the sheriff’s staff has for them, and the judge-executive attended the meeting. And we appreciate the fact that he’s done all he could within reason while respecting people’s opinions on the court.
“Four deputies have expressed an interest in going other places,” Brady said. “What we did is ask them if they would stay where they are since the court says it will review this when the budget process comes up starting in March … we asked them to wait until then. There were no direct yes or no answers, but everybody had a pretty positive attitude.
“They want to stay here, but with these young guys, when they start having families, they have to start looking out for what’s best for their families. We felt pretty good at the end of the meeting. That’s not to say someone won’t leave, but we are trying to be uplifting and supportive down here to keep as many as we can.”
Sheriff Brady said his department isn’t the only one facing a personnel shortage.
“The Kentucky State Police is dealing with the same issue that we are as far as manpower. We used to have nine troopers to help sheriff’s deputies as backup, but now we have two. There’s not a lot of backup from state police.
“We have one deputy who needs knee surgery and one who has military duty. Right now, if we lose one or two, it will be very difficult to have people out 24/7. If we don’t have enough people, we will have to start sacrificing on some shift, somewhere,” he said.
“This is a challenge,” Brady said. “We are buckling down, and we’re trying to do some proactive things to give our deputies backup on calls … But I’m telling you that if we don’t get in the competitive ballpark with the city police and other area agencies, we will have trouble responding to calls in Henderson County.”
Henderson Police Department
In November, the Henderson Police Department gave officers a $2 an hour raise for much the same reason as the sheriff’s office wants to increase salaries — retention and recruitment.
Henderson Police Chief Heath Cox said the issue has been before the panel for more than a year.
“We have a substantial amount of retirements in the next year and a half, and (the salary increases) would make us attractive to new hires, but also help retain our people,” he said. “That way, we wouldn’t lose anymore. It also makes our lateral positions more attractive for those officers already certified to come over.”
Cox said the department has tried several things to retain and recruit new officers. There is a shift differential payment which means people who work second shift — 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. — will get an additional $1.25 per hour compared to someone who works first shift, which is 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Officers working third shift — 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. — get an additional $.75 cents an hour compared to someone who works first shift.
“Then we have lateral transfer benefits. For example, if an officer who is already certified and has 10 years experience comes to the department, he/she will start out with a salary befitting a 10-year veteran of HPD,” he said. In addition, lateral transfers will get shift differentials and the $2 an hour increase.
“The $2 increase makes us more competitive to hire new people, retain officers and attract certified officers for lateral transfers,” Cox said.
Currently, a rookie officer (with no previous experience) starts out at $40,622, Cox said.
“If a new person works second shift, with the shift differential it would be an extra $2,600 (a year). While a new officer going to third shift would receive an extra $1,560 a year. So a new person could make between $42,000 and $43,000 a year depending on which shift he/she goes to,” the chief said.
The $2 increase approved by the Henderson City Commission occurred in November, just shy of mid fiscal year. Cox said the panel approved it unanimously.
“I’d had conversations with the City starting in 2019 about the impending retirements. We have had constant communication for more than a year about what was coming,” he said. “We tried shift differentials, we have a lateral-transfer program, we created a retired-officer program (in which HPD hires retired officers on an annual contract). So we had tried everything, and we were still struggling.
“We were chipping away at the problem over time,” Cox said. “It wasn’t something that happened overnight. We identified the problem more than a year ago, and we’ve been working on it with the City Commission since then.”