After days of picketing and protesting, Kootenai County sheriff’s deputies have accepted pay raises offered to them by county commissioners.
They had little choice.
“We have been told that this is what we’re going to get,” said a disappointed Sgt. Dan Soumas, president of the Kootenai County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association.
Deputies do not have the legal right to strike. But they had spent two days picketing the Kootenai County Courthouse and had resigned from their SWAT, dive-rescue and hostage-negotiation teams. The blowup came after three years of fighting with commissioners for higher wages.
Deputies said they need a revised pay system and $450,000 in raises to bring them within range of police departments in Coeur d’Alene and Spokane.
But commission Chairman Dick Compton repeatedly insisted the commissioners would give them no more than $260,000. After a heated meeting Monday night, it became clear there was little more deputies could do, Soumas said.
Sgt. Tim Parker, a four-year officer, is one of many deputies unhappy with the deal.
“It’s nothing more than a slap in the face,” he said Tuesday.
Commissioners and county clerk Tom Taggart see it differently. “I think for the number of employees and the amount of money, this is a significant increase,” Taggart said.
Here’s what the commissioners will give the deputies:
Deputies who participate in special teams such as the SWAT team and dive rescue team will be paid an extra $25 a week.
Those who work rotating shifts will make an extra 25 cents an hour.
Deputies will receive a pay raise of 10 percent after their first year. That’s an increase from $23,107 to $25,417 a year, Taggart said.
In the past, deputies did not know how many years it would take them to reach the middle point of their pay scale. Deputies who had worked at the department for eight years still were making less than $13.22 an hour.
With the commissioners’ offer, officers now know they will reach the midpoint of $27,498 after five years on the job.
Deputies will make $30,247 after eight years or more on the job.
“It’s by far the most significant attempt to address this problem in years,” Taggart said Tuesday.
But Soumas pointed out that neighboring police departments still pay far better.
Coeur d’Alene patrol officers reach the midpoint of their salary after only 3-1/2 years and - even with the raises - make almost $900 more a year than a sheriff’s deputy.
A deputy still has no way of knowing how to reach the maximum pay, while Coeur d’Alene officers are assured of reaching their maximum pay after 10-1/2 years.
Taggart says the commissioners have agreed to set up a committee with the Sheriff’s Department to work out some of the continuing problems.
For Sgt. Parker it’s too little too late. He will begin looking for work elsewhere.
He says he loves his job at the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department, although he’s been severely injured on the job twice. But the commissioners’ offer is not enough for him to support his two young children and wife.
“I have given all the dedication I can to this department,” he said. “I’ve got my two kids to look after.”
It will be up to each deputy whether to rejoin the special teams, Soumas said. Parker says he won’t rejoin the SWAT team.
“Why, when they don’t pay me a decent base wage, why would I want to go through the door in a high-risk situation?” he said. “My wife has gotten two knocks on the door in the middle of the night and I will not put her through that again.”