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Franklin County sheriff seeks 'living wage' for deputies

Written by Jim Hook/The Chambersburg Public Opinion | Oct 12, 2017 3:47 AM
Franklin_county_sheriff_james_brown.jpg

Sheriff James Brown, front, with Deputy Spencer Taylor during a break between visitors Monday, September 12, 2016 at the Franklin County Courthouse. County buildings are changing the way they secure the facilities. (Photo: Markell DeLoatch, Public Opinion)

(Chambersburg) -- Franklin County Sheriff James Brown wants to stop the revolving door in his department.

Young deputies get hired, become certified, then find jobs paying more elsewhere,

Brown on Tuesday asked county commissioners to increase his department's budget by nearly 10 percent so he can pay newly certified deputies more. The same issue came up seven years ago.

"I'd like to see a living wage that attracts and retains sheriff's deputy candidates," Brown said. "I'm trying to be fiscally prudent and safe."

Brown said that he has lost 44 percent of his deputies since he took office in January 2016. One young man told him he liked working for the county, but could not afford it. Two young deputies also quit this year to work with the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department.

Franklin County pays a deputy $14.92 an hour to start. Brown would let the starting pay stand, but he proposes that a deputy be paid $17.09 an hour when the deputy completes the required 19-week certification training. A newly hired deputy has one year in which to complete the certification.

Cumberland County pays a starting deputy $19.82 an hour.  Adams County pays $19 an hour to a newly certified deputy.

Brown estimates his department's payroll would increase about $122,000 to cover the raises.

That increase could hit $165,000 when benefits are included. The Sheriff's Department budget for 2017 is $1.7 million, already up 3.5 percent from 2016.

About 78 cents of every local tax dollar paid to the county goes to courts, crime and corrections.

A sheriff's deputy transports prisoners and guards them in the courtroom. A deputy also serves bench warrants, issues gun permits and conducts Sheriff Sales. They carry sidearms and sometimes wear bullet-proof vests.

The Sheriff's Department has 25 deputies and two administrators, including Brown. Most if not all live in the county, Brown said. He prefers to have a mix of young and old in his department. Many deputies are retired police officers who do not require extensive training and do not accept county medical benefits. Young deputies are starting out. Those who stick around have a vested interest in their community and offer experience to the department.

The current cycle of constantly training recruits can underman the department, according to Brown.

"If I have three guys in the academy, I only have 23 deputies," he said. "There are times when the schedule is very tight."

The sentencing of convicted murders calls for a heightened level of security, according to Brown. Six are to be sentenced on Nov. 2 in Franklin County Court.

Two deputies each spent 11 hours on the road to transport accused murder John Strawser from prison in Bellington, West Virginia, to stand trial in Chambersburg.

Brown requested Tuesday's budget hearing with commissioners to speak to them in person about his budget request. He also asked that they replace the department's 30 obsolete Tasers over the next four years at a cost of $10,000 a year. Two aging vehicles also need to be replaced.

The budget hearing mirrored one from 2010 when Brown's predecessor Dane Anthony also asked for an increase in his deputies' base pay.  A starting deputy was paid $12.80 an hour, among the lowest wages for fifth class counties. Anthony also asked commissioners to buy Tasers to equip the department's 17 deputies.

County corrections officers and sheriff's deputies were paid about the same wage in 2010. Starting pay for the union-represented corrections officers has grown steadily to the current $17.54 an hour, about $2.60 more an hour than deputies are paid.

Sheriff is an elected position, but commissioners approve spending for all county departments.

County staff on Oct. 17 will present budget requests from all department heads to commissioners. Commissioners will provide their guidance to staff, and a proposed 2018 budget will be prepared for public review on Nov. 21. Final adoption is scheduled for Dec. 12.

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the Chambersburg Public Opinion

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