The new Kootenai County Board of Commissioners has done a remarkable job drafting a first budget. It spends less in property-tax dollars than last year’s.
But the board was penny-wise, pound-foolish in dealing with demands from Kootenai County sheriff’s deputies for higher wages.
Admittedly, the $260,000 commissioners have added to the deputies’ pay package in the past week is a good beginning.
For the first time, the county will provide extra pay for night shifts and for work on dive-rescue, SWAT and hostage-negotiation teams.
Unfortunately, the extra money did little to bring the salary schedule for veteran deputies into line with neighboring departments in Coeur d’Alene and Spokane County. A Kootenai County deputy with three years’ experience, for example, still will earn $5,200 per year less than a Coeur d’Alene police counterpart.
Commissioners could have solved the problem without raising taxes by dipping into tax dollars generated by new growth. Instead, they elected to give property owners a slight tax break.
The deputies’ complaints are legitimate.
In this violent age, police officers regularly face dangerous situations. Deputies in far-flung Kootenai County are forced to patrol remote areas alone, 30 to 45 minutes from backup, and should be compensated for the risks they take - at least at a rate comparable to what Coeur d’Alene police are paid.
Otherwise, the Sheriff’s Department always will be a training ground for other agencies. Half of the current patrol force has less than three years of experience. It makes little business sense to spend some $80,000 to train an officer for other departments.
Salaries of some Kootenai County deputies are so low that their families need government assistance to survive. A few live in the hinterlands because they can’t afford housing closer to Coeur d’Alene or Post Falls. In other words, the people responsible for protecting the American dream for others aren’t being paid enough to share in that dream.
That’s why deputies took the drastic step last week of picketing the courthouse and of quitting en masse from emergency teams.
To their credit, county commissioners promised to form a committee now to resolve pay differences by next spring - so there will be no need for more pickets. No cop worth his salt prefers a picket line to keeping law and order.
Most Kootenai County sheriff’s deputies are worth their salt.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board