Franklin County has a major problem. The county is losing deputy sheriffs and other employees in the department because the pay is not competitive in today’s law enforcement world. The county is losing deputy sheriffs to other law enforcement agencies, including municipalities.

The deputies held a meeting last week with the county commission to express their concerns and their unhappiness with not having received a raise in years. County employees did receive a one-time bonus of $700 in 2011.

The situation with deputies is that many of them have to hold a second job to make ends meet. The pay for deputies ranges from $22,074 to $61,669 a year. Sheriff Gary Toelke told the commissioners that the starting pay for his deputies is about equal to what municipalities start their officers at, but his deputies haven’t had a raise in years and the cities have and the county no longer is competitive with those entities.

Deputy sheriffs, like city police officers and highway patrolmen, must have special training. To lose that experience is damaging to the county and for the safety of the general public. We all know being a law enforcement officer today is hazardous duty. More criminals are armed today. That makes an officer’s duty even more dangerous. They have hazardous meth labs to deal with and many other challenging incidents, such as domestic violence. The hours they work, at night, weekends and holidays, is another burden in dealing with raising a family and trying to lead a normal life. In fact, it is nearly impossible for a law enforcement officer to lead a normal life. The people they have to deal with can be nasty, ungrateful and violent.

They do put their lives on the hazardous duty line day after day!

The county commissioners do not have the money to give across the board raises. The county has serious debt obligations. It has ongoing maintenance expenses from roads to new buildings, which cost more to heat and cool than the old courthouse offices. The new buildings were needed, but operational costs are higher. The county’s decision to pave every road it has was a mistake. There is no justification to pave every road, some of which have very little traffic. The present commission wisely has put the paving program on hold. The increases in revenue have not been as great as in the past when the county was growing much faster and the economy was better. There has been a slight decrease in the county’s assessed valuation of property for tax purposes.

Like for businesses in the county, general operational expenses are higher. Cost of benefits for employees are higher.

Commissioners must find a way to solve the pay problem for deputy sheriffs. Suggestions that have been made have some merit, such as a special county budget committee to study the situation and make recommendations. It would be a positive step for the commissioners to enlist the support of citizens with expertise to study county finances and to make recommendations. Citizen committees can be very helpful.

It is a situation in which expenses and some services may have to be cut to retain deputies to provide the high level of safety needed from the sheriff’s department. We have a very professional sheriff’s department. It should be kept that way!