County board approves $1/hour raise for deputies

January 26, 2024

County board approves $1/hour raise for deputies

By Allison Scarbrough, News Editor

HART —  The Oceana County Board of Commissioners approved a $1 per hour raise for its sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers during a regular meeting Thursday, Jan. 25.

With a shortage of officers nationwide, the Oceana County Sheriff’s Office has been feeling the sting. It is hopeful that the wage increase will help retain current deputies and attract new ones to fill vacancies.

“Building up the wage scale helps us not only attract new employees but keep the ones that we have,” said Police Officers Association of Michigan Union Representative Tim Lewis.

The wage increase only impacts road patrol deputies, corrections officers, detectives and one office manager, said Oceana County Sheriff Craig Mast after the meeting. The raise does not include his own wages or other officers’ pay, such as the undersheriff and lieutenants, he said, or the jail cooks. The raise impacts 32 total staff members. 

The sheriff’s office has only one detective on staff right now, and it will have a corrections vacancy at the end of the month due to a retiring officer, said the sheriff. “We’re down two detectives and a marine officer right now.

“We’ve had several guys retire who have careers of 25-30 years. We’ve had guys leave for Kent County; we’ve had guys leave for the DNR; and we had one leave to go to Mason County — in all these instances, they are leaving to pursue higher wages and/or a pension-type retirement, which we currently do not have. They went from a defined benefit to a defined contribution. It’s really a 401K. It’s hard to compete with agencies that have a full pension. So, the only way we can compete is with wages.”

With the raise, the starting pay for a new deputy rose from $25.46 per hour to $26.46, which is a county budget expenditure of approximately $60,000. The new pay rate will take effect the first pay period in February, said the sheriff.

The pay hike follows a 2.5 percent raise, Jan. 1.

“They’re not paid enough for what they’re worth, but this is a good start,” said Commissioner Phil Morse, who voted “yes” for the increase.

Board Chairman Robert Walker, who is a former police officer, said, “I don’t think money is going to solve the problem. We all have to put our heads together to come up with an innovative idea to make Oceana County Sheriff’s Office a place where everybody wants to work. I know the sheriff has been working hard on that.”

“A dollar an hour isn’t going to make someone want to come here,” said Commissioner Paul Erickson, who voted “no” on the pay increase along with Walker. But the motion passed with a 3-2 vote with commissioners Morse, Tim Beggs and Craig Hardy casting the “yes” votes.

The Oceana County Sheriff’s Office pays a higher wage than its neighboring sheriff’s offices in Mason and Manistee counties — prior to the increase, said Erickson.

Sheriff Mast said he has been losing deputies to higher-paying assignments. He described a young deputy who recently told him he was taking a higher-paying job with the Michigan State Police. “He told me this with tears in his eyes,” said Mast.

“This $1 an hour is an attempt to stop that gap of being a stepping stone,” said Vice Chairman Beggs, who is a volunteer officer with the Oceana County Sheriff’s Office Reserve. 

Commissioner Morse said he supported the raise along with adding a retention plan. “There are other things we can do.”

“I think we need a big incentive,” said Commissioner Erickson. 

“We’re trying to keep the good deputies that we have here and we’re trying to attract others to fill the vacancies,” said Mast. “I appreciate the efforts the county board has made to try to keep wages at a competitive wage, so I can continue to have a viable patrol force to protect and defend the county.”

The sheriff’s office is exploring other ways to attract and retain police officers, such as grant opportunities to pay for police academy tuition; assisting deputies with securing housing in a county afflicted with a housing shortage; and even helping officers’ spouses find employment, said Mast. 

In related action, the board voted 4-0 to approve contracts with the Village of Walkerville and Grant Township to provide additional patrol hours from the sheriff’s office. Chairman Walker declared a conflict of interest in voting on the matter because it “directly affects a family member.” His son Ethan is a Rothbury police officer.

“We were approached by the different jurisdictions,” said Mast. “We have also had (a contract) with Hesperia, and I expect to get that any time. Deputies can sign up to work on their days off in these different jurisdictions and make overtime money when they are available to.

“The Hesperia Police Department is currently suspended. Their MCOLS (Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards) license is suspended, because they do not have any staff.”

Walkerville still has a small police department, but lacks staff. “It’s been very, very difficult for them to have patrol hours out there. The village thought that it would be more productive to contract with us.”

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