A few Santa Barbara county deputies are relocating to other law enforcement agencies to earn a better salary and benefits as a result of uncompetitive wages.
The Sheriff’s Dept. lost 25 deputies over the past year due to officers going on military leave, recruits dropping out of training academy and deputies leaving to other agencies in search of higher pay, according to the department. Sheriff Jim Thomas, manager of the department that employs 200 deputies, is petitioning the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors next week for higher wages for the deputies.
“Our deputies should be paid close to parity with the officers of other agencies. I can understand the situation of the deputies who moved to other agencies,” Thomas said. “When someone makes a decision for the betterment of their family, I am not a critic. We [the Sheriff’s Dept.] need to be competitive with our wages.”
According to information provided by the county Sheriff’s Dept., county deputies earn $585 less biweekly compared to officers at the Santa Barbara Police Dept. The difference in wages is due to a retirement system for county workers that deducts money from workers’ salaries for benefits like health care and retirement.
Lt. Bill Byrne, the public information officer for the Sheriff’s Dept., said that workers for city governments like Santa Barbara are under a retirement plan that works to their advantage. Most city governments administer retirement benefits under the state-funded Public Employment Retirement System, a mutual fund that saves a worker’s money for retirement.
“The Sheriff’s Department must remain competitive with the benefits that other agencies offer,” he said. “If we are investing so much time and money with deputies, why should we let them move to other agencies? Seasoned officers are snatched away from us as a result of our uncompetitive wages and benefits. How do we train officers so they can stay here?”
The Deputy Sheriffs’ Association plans to negotiate contracts for county deputies in two and a half years unless the Board of Supervisors raises the wages. Third District Supervisor Gail Marshall said that solving the problem of wages and benefits should not be difficult.
“We first need to find out if there is a shortage in the county budget. And once we do that we have to determine why there is a shortage. Let’s assume for discussion’s sake it’s because of wages; then, all we have to do is meet and confer with the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association in order to make adjustments to their contracts,” she said.
Marshall also was not convinced of Sheriff Thomas’ motives to improve salaries for deputies, suggesting that Thomas’ petition to the Board of Supervisors is related to the campaign to recall her from office.
“I think this is a thinly veiled attempt to politicize this issue by Sheriff Jim Thomas. I think it has to do with a desire to win my seat,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that real issues that need to be addressed, like the retirement system, are being twisted to make its seem like I’m not doing my job.”