Douglas County leaders approve new pay scale for public safety personnel; they hope it will help keep pace with other area agencies
photo by: Matt Resnick | Journal-World
Updated at 2:55 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16
Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved a restructured pay scale for the sheriff’s office and the county’s Criminal Justice Services in an effort to improve recruitment and retention and keep pace with other agencies.
The new pay scale approved at Wednesday’s commission meeting is tentatively set to be implemented in mid-December, with an additional round of market adjustments planned for March of 2024. While the changes will affect positions at the sheriff’s office up to the rank of lieutenant, entry-level positions such as deputies and corrections officers will see the most impact, and Gary Bunting, a major of the Corrections Division, told commissioners the adjustments would go a long way toward “leveling the playing field” with other area law enforcement agencies.
A memo from County Administrator Sarah Plinsky that was included in the agenda materials showed just how much the pay would rise for entry-level positions. For instance, the minimum starting pay for corrections officers, the law enforcement personnel who work at the Douglas County Jail, will rise from $20.19 an hour to $26.72 an hour with the new scale. And the market adjustment in March 2024 will raise all of the pay ranges — for corrections officers, deputies, adult services officers, and juvenile service officers — even more. By that time, the minimum starting wages for all of those positions will be $27.36 an hour.
Keeping up with other law enforcement agencies was a major concern during the county’s 2024 budget process this past summer. As the Journal-World reported, Sheriff Jay Armbrister said at that time that departments in the Kansas City area were outpacing the sheriff’s office in pay and sometimes even actively poaching his employees.
At the commission’s meeting Wednesday, Commissioner Karen Willey wanted to know whether the new pay scale would solve the problem.
“Since we made our adjustments, I’m sure our neighbors have also,” Willey said. “Is this step getting us there, or are we (still) getting outpaced by the other communities?”
Bunting replied that the adjustments “will keep us competitive.”
“What the other jurisdictions are going to do is a good question,” he said. “At the time I was collecting data, all of them were currently completing studies themselves. But hopefully this keeps us where we need to be.”
The county hired a consulting firm, The Austin Peters Group, to study the wage issue, and Douglas County Finance Manager Brooke Sauer said the firm calculated that an 8.4% increase was necessary for the wages of public safety personnel to be on par with regional averages.
In total, the funding approved for the pay increases in the 2024 budget process adds up to roughly $737,000.
In other business, the commission:
• Received a list of $3.6 million worth of projects that the City of Lawrence is willing to fund as part of the city and county local match requirement for the South Lawrence Trafficway. County officials are moving ahead with funding a project to extend Wakarusa Drive, and the city said it would meet its match obligations by funding other projects that will benefit the community or the county. Projects on the list include paying for several bridge improvements, annexing the county’s portion of 31st Street north of Kansas Highway 10 and assuming all maintenance responsibilities of the road, among other projects.
Plinsky told commissioners that the collaboration with city officials on the projects was “collegial” and “speaks to the evolution with how the city and county work together.”
• Unanimously approved a procedure for commissioners to follow when considering requests for matching funds for broadband projects. According to a memo from county staff, under the 2021 federal infrastructure law, Kansas is expected to have more than $450 million to award to projects to expand broadband access. The new procedure will help guide county commissioners when a project asks them for matching funds in connection with one of these broadband grants.
• During a work session, heard an update on the county’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.
Editor’s note: This story has been revised to correct the title of Gary Bunting.