County commissioners are considering big wage boosts for Douglas County Sheriff's officers.
Under a new pay plan unveiled Tuesday, a deputy could earn at least 12 percent more next year and a detective could earn 29 percent more.
Douglas County Sheriff Rick Trapp said the pay increases are needed. He said he was tired of investing $20,000 each to train his deputies, only to lose them within a couple months to better-paying area law enforcement departments.
Plus, he said, "it's become harder and harder to recruit people because we don't pay enough."
If Trapp's plan is approved, the county commission would allocate $350,000 to make salaries for the Sheriff's Office and Douglas County Youth Services more competitive.
A 3 percent cost-of-living raise also would be applied, if the plan is approved for the 2002 budget.
Trapp's plan is less expensive than that proposed by the county administrator's budget proposal.
That plan allocates $500,000, instead of $350,000, to improve county law enforcement salaries.
But commissioners Tuesday reacted less favorably to the more expensive version, considering the tight budget year.
"I think we have to compete," said Commission Chairman Bob Johnson. "We don't have to be on top, but we're not even competing now."
A deputy's average starting salary is $29,678 compared to $31,096 at the Lawrence Police Department. The city has proposed a 3 percent cost-of-living increase in its 2002 budget.
Other agencies pay even more. For example, $33,264 is the average starting salary at the Overland Park Police Department. It's $34,486 at the Baldwin Police Department.
Under Trapp's plan, deputies would start at $33,451 and could earn a maximum of $50,178.
Trapp said he must do something. In recent weeks, the office has had between 10 and 15 vacant positions. Twenty people recently applied for open deputy positions, but only four people showed for testing. Of those, only one might be hired.
"The future of the Sheriff's Office is in limbo because of these salaries," Trapp said.
Gerry Hammond, a member of the Douglas County Property Owners Assn., also urged commissioners to increase officers' pay.
Although the group is urging the commission to lower the mill levy, he said the county must take an active role to provide qualified officers.
"We don't want to lose them, and we don't want to be a training ground for Johnson County," he said.
A meeting to continue discussing the 2002 budget is tentatively scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Monday.