Drums Beat Louder For Sheriff Deputy Salary Hikes

Resident lobbies for $60,000 starting pay compensation

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

The push for better pay for Teller County Sheriff deputies is not just an isolated request from within the department.

Last week, this plea for better officer pay was echoed loud and clear by a local resident, who raised the ante even further by making a bid for an approximate $20,000 hike in the starting salary of Teller deputies.

Resident Roger Coker of Divide addressed the Teller County commissioners at their regular meeting last Thursday. He asked that the county use the extra future revenues from the property tax increases, as a result of the recent huge hike in appraiser values, to fund the salary hikes. Ultimately, Coker, who has a corporate background in human resources, is lobbying for a beginning deputy salary of $60,000. This is close to $20,000 more than what they receive now..

The resident picked a good time to make a pitch for the sheriff’s department, as the commissioners had a fairly light agenda, making Coker’s presentation a key highlight of last week’s session. Following Coker’s comments, the commissioners conceded they are working on addressing this issue of law enforcement pay inequity that has generated much attention in recent weeks. But they fell short of making any definite commitments.

Coker argued that with the current pay schedule of Teller sheriff deputies, the county was clashing with the goals of their strategic plan; and worse of all, this was signaling a bad message. “The low salaries for our deputies guarantee we will have constant turnover, increased turnover costs, lower levels of public safety, and eliminate any opportunity for the sheriff’s office to even dream of ever building, much less maintaining a reputation that supports Teller County as an outstanding place for our deputies to work and live,” stated Coker.

The resident outlined comparable salaries for law officers in the region, with Teller deputies lingering at the bottom of the scale, falling below both Woodland Park and Cripple Creek. According to his statistics, deputies in Teller County earn a starting salary of $40,512, while Woodland Park officers get a beginning salary of $51,000, with rookie officers in Cripple Creek receiving $47,000. He described this Teller law enforcement salary situation as unacceptable. “In a world in which some people increasingly react to law enforcement officers by attacking them, wounding them or killing them, there are no‘safe’ assignments, no ‘safe investigations,’ or ‘safe’ calls for service,” said Coker.

But contrary to some talk of a bond or tax issue to correct the situation, Coker proposed that the county just use all of its expected increase in tax revenue from the huge property valuation hikes to rectify the pay inequity. “I recommend all of the increased property taxes collected be used first and foremost to fund a salary increase for our deputies and only be considered for other purposes if additional funds remain  after increasing their salaries,” he said. And if this tax increase falls short of current projections, he suggested that other county budgets get reduced.

Coker called this request a prudent use of county funds.

The commissioners didn’t address the specifics of his plan, but admitted that offering higher pay to sheriff deputies is a top concern. This salary inequity, and the challenges it poses for sheriff department leaders, has hit the spotlight in recent weeks. This message has been stressed repeatedly by Sheriff Jason Mikesell. It will become a key budget issue for 2020.

The commissioners sympathized with the plight of the department employees, but didn’t release any new details or commitments.  “We are working on this,” said Commission Chairman Norm Steen. “It is one of the challenges we face.”

Steen acknowledged that the county could experience an infusion of extra revenue next year from the big hike in assessments, but it could confront many funding requests.

Raising the pay of law enforcement officers in Teller County has hit the top of the charts for a number of months and even years. In fact, this pay problem has been mentioned by the last few sheriff administrations as a major hurdle to overcome in retaining good officers.