Johnson County commissioners approve sheriff’s deputy pay increase to fill vacancies

SUSAN PFANNMULLER/Susan Pfannmuller Special to The

The Johnson County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to raise the minimum salary of deputies after a previous presentation from the sheriff about staff vacancies that he attributed to a pay structure that was not competitive.

Commissioners voted to increase the base pay of incoming deputies to $27.50 an hour. The plan will also implement a step-pay system in which deputies are given guaranteed raises each year, rather than the current merit-based raise system.

After the agency lost around 60 deputies in the last three months, according to Sheriff Calvin Hayden, new hires will start at an increased salary of $28.50 an hour — the second step in the system — until there are 14 vacancies, which human resources staff said was the average vacancy rate for sheriff’s offices in 2021.

Any deputies making below the new rate will also see their pay increased to $28.50 an hour.

The department employs just over 500 deputies as well as civilian employees. There are 69 deputy vacancies, according to a presentation from human resources staff and sheriff’s office officials, which they said has led to a decline in community policing and staffing in jails and court.

Hayden told commissioners at a Sept. 15 meeting that the sheriff’s office lost deputies because salaries weren’t competitive with other offices across the region.

He and the human resources staff each presented plans for different salary increases that both included a step system for raises. Commissioners voted two weeks ago to recommend the HR plan, which included a lower starting salary than Hayden recommended, to staff with the addition of potential hiring bonuses.

The approved plan does not include the hiring bonuses after the sheriff and staff questioned whether one-time bonuses would encourage deputies to stay with the office long term.

Reserve funds in the 2022 budget would be used to cover the cost of salary increases for the remainder of the year.

According to a presentation by officials in human resources, the average salary for deputies in Johnson County exceeds the average for other deputies in the area for the first five years of employment.

But the average annual pay dips below the market average once a deputy has worked with the office for six years or more compared to officers in cities like Overland Park and Lawrence, where they can make a maximum salary of around $85,000 and $81,000, respectively.

The analyses from human resources compared salaries with local departments, but Hayden said the sheriff’s office often recruits employees nationally and has to worry about competitive salaries from cities like Wichita, Des Moines and Omaha.