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Baxter County Sheriff secures wage hike for deputies and jailers

Christmas has come early to the Baxter County Sheriff Office after the county’s Quorum Court approved a new budget to put more money into the pockets of the deputies and jailers at the Sheriff’s Office.

Baxter County Sheriff’s Office employees are now under a separate pay scale from their county counterparts after Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery successfully proposed a new payment plan focused on retaining employees to the court.  

“Something that we have always felt is that you should pay a person based upon the job that they do,” said Montgomery during a sit-down interview with the Observer. “Not just lump everybody together because the person that finishes concrete shouldn’t; their job shouldn’t be compared to somebody that drives a truck or is a deputy or a jailor. The current system in place was that all of the county employees got lumped together.” 

Under the new budget, the BCSO will receive an additional $270,000 to raise the starting wages of its deputies to $16.75 an hour. Jailers will receive a starting pay raise to $15.75 an hour under the new pay scale. The department will also receive the additional $1 an hour raise that all county employees are receiving this year and a 3% yearly raise on the anniversary of their start date.  

Previous starting wages for both deputies and jailers were $12.83 and $12.16 an hour. The increase will put an additional $7,000-8,000 annually into the pockets of BCSO employees.  

“In the 17 years that I have been sheriff, we’ve lost 21 certified deputies who left for better-paying jobs,” Montgomery said. “We are the training ground for everybody else.” 

Montgomery said the new pay increase would slow down the revolving door at BSCO, putting more certified deputies on the street protecting lives instead of in the academy or the department’s field training program.  

Training, which often can only occur at certain times of the year, is one of the major setbacks with losing a deputy. The academy requires deputies to complete a 13-week course before returning to Montgomery for four to six weeks of field training.  

“You’re looking at 17 to 20 weeks from the time the academy starts to when I can use that person,” Montgomery said. “That’s been our difficulty. We’ve been extremely shorthanded.” 

The turnover situation at the county jail is even worse, with many jailers leaving for higher-paying jobs in an economy that has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The jail, which requires a minimum of four people per shift, has also faced difficulty retaining its trained staff, forcing Montgomery to spend additional time and energy training recruits to the jail. 

“When you hire somebody, and you put them to work in the jail, it’s not like they know what they are doing the first day,” Montgomery said. “If they don’t stay long enough, then you’re just constantly trying to train folks, and we have to have a certain amount of bodies in the jail that jail standards require.” 

Montgomery also secured the ability to offer higher wages to experienced deputies and jailers that joined the department. He said he could offer up to a 24% increase in starting wages.  

Under his plan, a certified deputy with 10 years of experience would receive credit at a 50% rate or five years, with a 3% pay bump for each of those five years, totaling a 15% increase in pay to start.  

The BCSO is currently looking to fill new deputy and jailer positions at this time. 

“I think the process worked,” Montgomery said. “An elected official approached the Quorum Court who constitutionally has the authority to set salaries and benefits. I laid out the proposal to the budget committee, and they recommended it to the court to consider. They voted to do it, and it was unanimous both times.” 

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