INFOGRAPHIC | King County deputies pay rates outpace Eastside departments
December 17, 2010
By Dan Catchpole
UPDATED — 8:30 a.m. Dec. 17, 2010
King County and the union representing its sheriff’s deputies are back to square one on wage negotiations after the county rejected a proposal that would have cost more than it saved despite a small pay cut to deputies.
The lowest pay rate for deputies is comparable to other Eastside police departments, but they have a much higher ceiling, according to an analysis of negotiated pay rates among local police departments by the SnoValley Star.
Deputies’ pay has climbed faster than other departments and will likely pull ahead of most departments in 2011 and 2012, according to the analysis.
Concern about the deputies’ rising wages remains part of the reason the North Bend City Council is considering ending its contract for police services with the King County Sheriff’s Office and instead partnering with Snoqualmie.
Deputies are in line to receive 5 percent wages in 2011 and 2012.Their proposal would have cut next year’s raise to 3 percent, which would have saved the county $1.3 million. But the proposal also stipulated that the county could not layoff any deputies and it extended their contract to 2013 with a 2 percent raise that year.
King County Executive Dow Constantine rejected the offer, saying it would ultimately cost the county $2.5 million. Layoffs are currently scheduled for January due to budget cuts. Further cuts are scheduled for June when several unincorporated areas patrolled by deputies will be annexed into Kirkland.
Constantine has asked the King County Police Officers’ Guild, which represents the deputies, to discuss other options, according to his spokesman, Frank Abe.
Defenders of the deputies’ contract say the wage increases are bringing their wages up to the middle of the field. Critics say it has become too expensive given current economic reality.
The proposed concession would have meant some savings for North Bend, but City Administrator Duncan Wilson said he expects it to be less than $10,000.
Twelve cities contract with the King County Sheriff’s Office for police services.
The proposal does not do enough in 2012 and 2013 to reduce the city administration’s concerns about the rising cost of its contract for police services.
“We still have not reached a point where it’s sustainable,” Wilson said.
The guild did not reply to requests for comment.
By the time the contract expires, the lowest pay rate for deputies will have gone from about $47,200 to $60,273. In 2010, the lowest rate is $54,671.
These wages are not that far from the median pay rates for Eastside police departments in 2008-2010.
The highest rate for patrol officers will similarly have climbed from about $66,450 to just under $84,400. In 2010, it is $76,551. These rates have consistently been well above the median high rate for the area, which is $73,482 in 2010.
Higher-ranking officers, such as sergeants and lieutenants, are paid more. It is difficult to compare pay for these officers due to differences in command structures and responsibilities between departments.
Most of the Eastside police departments are in the process of negotiating new labor contracts. Three cities have contracts with their police officers unions through 2011; no city has a contract for 2012.
Contracts negotiated in the midst of an economic recession tend to use deferred compensation rather than wage increases, according to Ken Smith, a labor specialist and professor at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Administration.
Comparing pay rates offers a limited view, because salary is only one part of an employee’s overall compensation, Smith said.
Nonetheless, Snoqualmie’s preliminary cost estimate of a joint police force was about $250,000 less than North Bend’s current contract with King County, according to North Bend officials.
This year, the lowest negotiated rate for Snoqualmie police officers is $52,584 and the highest rate is $70,284.
“We’re certainly going to look at what Snoqualmie has to offer,” North Bend Councilman Chris Garcia said.
Some city officials have expressed frustration with their lack of influence on the deputies’ contract negotiations, which are handled by the county and the deputies’ union.
“It’s a big part of it,” North Bend Councilwoman Jeanne Pettersen said. “Personnel costs are one of the highest costs in your budget.”
Currently, the city is considering layoffs or furloughs to close a $100,000 budget shortfall.
More than money
Money isn’t all that matters, though. Benefits, opportunities for advancement, personal fulfillment and other factors all influence a person’s decision to take a job.
“Salary is not the most important factor for most employees,” Smith said.
Police Chief Mark Toner agreed.
“If money were the big issue, I’d go be a doctor,” he said.
He took a pay cut when he left his career as a machinist to join the sheriff’s office. Like the rest of North Bend’s police force, Toner is a sheriff’s deputy. His assignment is acting chief of police for the former logging town.
When he applied, Toner also applied to work for a smaller department, which offered better pay, but he was attracted to the diverse assignments available with the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office also offers more opportunity for advancement than smaller departments.
In his more than 25 years as a deputy, Toner has worked in rural assignments (including North Bend), urban settings, as a SWAT member and in the department’s Major Crimes Unit.
“Show me another job where you can have such a huge impact just by being there,” Toner said.
Hard pill to swallow
Eliminating the increase would encourage North Bend to stay with the sheriff’s office for police services, city officials said.
As it is, the contract’s rising costs are a “hard pill to swallow,” North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing said at a county budget hearing in October. “We need to take a hard look at police services.”
The city told the county later that month it is considering other options and might want to end the contract, an 18-month process.
The county came back by lowering the cost of the proposed 2011 contract by nearly $200,000. The savings will come from different service levels and the county picking up part of the North Bend police chief’s salary.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Garcia said.
The contract’s cost will still continue to rise in 2012, because of wage increases and North Bend’s annexation of the Tanner area, which means more ground to patrol.
Dan Catchpole: 392-6434, ext. 246, or email@example.com. Comment at www.snovalleystar.com.