January 31, 2008 11 p.m.
To the Editor:The year was 1991, the first Gulf War was coming to an end. George Bush Sr. is president, gas is only $1.15 per gallon and stamps are just a quarter. Remember those days? Well, the Deputies of the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office certainly do, because that was the last year that any of them received a contracted pay raise. Yes, you read that right. It has been 17 years since any Deputy with the Sheriff's Office received a raise beyond the cost of living increases given to all county employees.Sadly, the long term effects of this neglect are starting to have a significant effect on the Deputy Sherriff's. Lincoln County's dubious distinction of being the lowest paid Sheriff's Office in the western half of the state is also having a tremendous impact on recruitment. Position for Deputy Sheriff's are often advertised for months, yet the jobs routinely go unfilled because no qualified applicants are even received. With starting pay in surrounding counties being at least two to five dollars more per hour, quality applicants have absolutely no incentive to work here.In past years, the Sheriff's Reserve program had provided a pool of interested and trained applicants that could easily transition into a full time paid Deputy Sheriff position. Unfortunately, those same reserves are now being recruited away by other agencies. In just the last year, two Lincoln County Sheriff's Office Reserves were hired by the Montana Highway Patrol even though a deputy position was available. Why? Because entry level pay for highway patrol trainees are greater than the wage now paid to Sheriff's Detectives tasked with Homicide, Narcotic, Sex crime and other major case investigations.As Lincoln County continues to grow, calls for service have increased by more than 35 percent over the past 10 years. This growth has also resulted in the dramatic increases in housing costs that we have all seen. With wages set as they are today, many current deputies are unable to afford quality housing and new recruits won't even consider locating to the area.With the potential retirement of as many as six deputies anticipated in the near future, the salary issue must be considered critical.While we understand that public funds are limited, the deputy sheriffs of this county feel very strongly that the next step in the negotiation process in the county's participation in binding arbitration. As of Jan. 21, our written request to the commissioners for binding arbitration has gone unanswered.The members of the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office strive to provide the highest level of public safety service for this community. In return, we ask only for a fair market wage and continued support of the citizens of Lincoln County.The union members of the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office