When the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office began searching for officers earlier this year to fill an open deputy spot, only five people applied. None of them could pass the required physical agility test.
MCSO says it does not pay well enough to attract new road officers, who can earn more money at surrounding departments. Jail officers are also leaving because of low pay.
The sheriff’s office isn’t alone. The auditor’s office has also battled high turnover with employees recruited by higher-paying counties.
Starting salaries for the positions will go up beginning Jan. 1, after the sheriff and auditor sought increases from the county’s pay matrix committee. The county council approved the changes Tuesday.
For road deputies, starting pay will increase to $51,000 per year from $44,000, Sheriff Ryan Needham said. The sheriff, chief deputy and commander’s salaries are not included in the increase.
While Needham said the higher salary is more fair and a responsible use of tax dollars, he noted it still doesn’t put the agency at the top of the list. He said it remains a few thousand dollars below the Crawfordsville Police Department and less than other agencies. Deputies with more experience received an earlier pay raise.
“Our top-paid deputies are still very thankful for what they received. The top guys are good, now it’s just getting in the door,” Needham said. “And when we’re $9,000-10,000 below the city of Crawfordsville, there’s not much reason to come down to the jail when they can go up to the police department and start that much more.”
The open deputy spot remains unfilled. If the hiring process begins now, it will likely be after the first of the year before a new officer joins the force, Needham said.
The starting salary for jail officers will rise to $35,000 from $32,850, following the committee’s recommendation.
A total of 24 jail officers have left the department since January 2019, mostly because of the lower pay, with two to three spots still open, Needham said. The new salary is still $5,000-$6,000 lower than surrounding departments, he added.
Additionally, jail commander Lonnie Jones plans to retire next spring and a merit deputy will be promoted into the position. Needham proposed paying the jail commander’s salary out of the public safety local income tax fund, which would free up about $74,000 for the general fund.
The council acknowledged that starting salaries may need adjusted in other departments.
“It’s not just the sheriff’s domain, it’s countywide,” councilman Gary Booth said. “The ERPS Committee should be mindful of starting wages and to keep pace with what’s going on [in the surrounding area].”
In the auditor’s office, starting salaries will increase by 10% department-wide. Auditor Jennifer Andel said that since being elected in 2015, everyone except for herself and the chief deputy has been turned over twice.
“And the primary reason is because our jobs are complicated and our people get poached,” said Andel, who noted the office is currently fully staffed. “Right now, we have a great team. Right now we’re investing a lot of time and effort and expense into training these deputies.”
On top of routine duties such as paying bills and processing tax settlements, the state now requires capital assets to be handled through the auditor’s office. More training is needed to process annual reports using a different accounting system.
Two of the former deputy auditors left for another county’s office after they were contacted through social media.
“She looked them up on our county website, contacted them via Facebook Messenger and said, ‘I’ll pay you this many thousand dollars more than what you’re getting in Montgomery County,’” Andel said.