Sheriff Asks Hall County to Step Up, Pay Deputies More - KHGI-TV/KWNB-TV/KHGI-CD-Grand Island, Kearney, Hastings

Sheriff Asks Hall County to Step Up, Pay Deputies More

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The Hall County Sheriff says he's spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to train somebody else's workers. Jerry Watson says turnover is high because pay is low.

For all his deputies do, Watson feels Hall County should hire the best it can.

"Character, integrity, professionalism, generally being smart - you want the top of the line," he said.

But Watson told the Hall County Board he's not attracting enough of those people, because the pay is too low.

He said, "To get quality people you have to offer a decent wage."

In the last six years, he's hired 15 new deputies. About half replaced officers who left for other police jobs.

The $16.25 starting wage in Hall County is a dollar less an hour than Adams County and $3 less than both Buffalo County and Grand Island police, and the GIPD is in the same building. 

Watson said, "How can you blame somebody if they could walk across the hall and get $3 an hour more, they're going to do it."

It's hard to compare, because other departments may have better hours or other benefits. But Watson says applicants first look at the pay, and based on that, "Either the door stays open or gets closed."

Watson put an additional $200,000 in his budget for wages. 

County Supervisor Pam Lancaster was hesitant to say much, because union negotiations are starting soon. 

"I'm not going to participate in the conversation," she said. 

Lancaster explained it would be inappropriate to discuss at this time, with private negotiations scheduled.

"We signed ground rules and we were careful of handling those appropriately, infringing on those," she said.

The independent Merit Commission recommends an increase to $18.25 minimum wage for a deputy. That's still lower than some agencies, but closer.

Watson said, "Where we're at right now, we're way behind and have to look at what's out there, as with any other profession, see what the market's telling us, what's it paying for that, and step up and get there."

Watson hopes higher pay will improve retention. He figures it costs $30,000 to hire someone, put them through the police academy, and get them on the streets.

Over the last two years, he said that has added up to more than $300,000.

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