Sheriff’s guild, county finally hammer out contract: Deputies to receive up to $20,000 checks by end of year for back pay

After six long years, deputies with the Island County Sheriff’s Office are finally working under a contract.

In a last-minute push, both sides in the negotiations were able to come to the table and compromise on issues of pay and benefits, according to Deputy Darren Crownover, president of the Island County Deputy Sheriff’s guild.

Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson said she was pleased that they were able to come to an agreement instead of continuing to arbitration, which was scheduled for next year and would have cost both the guild and the county.

“I think that settling the contract with negotiations instead of asking a court to do it fosters a better working relationship,” she said.

Crownover said he was thankful to the county leadership, especially the commissioners.

“We’ve been living on 2008 wages,” he said. “It’s nice to bring the guys up to 2014 wages.”

The settlement will cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the commissioners had saved for the eventuality, Budget Director Elaine Marlow said.

Island County commissioners approved the contract this week. Crownover said the members of the guild overwhelming voted to support it.

Under the settlement agreement, deputies will get lump-sum payments of retroactive wage increases, though the payout may not come in time for Christmas.

Marlow said the back pay will cost the county about $700,000; about $600,000 of that is actual back pay, while the rest is payroll tax and retirement costs.

She estimated that the average deputy, who makes about $60,000 a year, will get $18,000 to $20,000 in back pay. The department has 35 deputies, but a couple are newer and will receive only a year or so of back pay while more-senior members of the department will receive more.

Only deputies currently employed will get the back pay; those who are retired do not qualify, she said.

Marlow said the goal is to get the money to the deputies by the end of the year.

Under the contract, the deputies won’t receive wage increases for the years 2009 and 2010, which was when the county made deep cuts to balance the budget.

But they are receiving the following wage increases: 1.5 percent for 2011, 3 percent for 2012, 3.5 percent for 2013, 4 percent for 2014 and 2 percent for 2015.

The deputies agreed to drop their medical plan and go to less-expensive options, Marlow explained.

In addition, Crownover said the guild will drop its lawsuit against the county for alleged violations of the state’s open public records law.

Marlow estimates that the wage increases will cost the county an extra $352,000 next year in deputies’ salaries, but the change in medical plans will save the county about $50,000.

Marlow explained that county officials have the money set aside in a reserve account for the back pay. In addition, she said there’s a contingency amount earmarked for the wage increases in next year’s budget.

In total, the county will pay the deputies roughly $2.8 million in wages and $1.2 million in benefits and retirement in 2015, Marlow said.

Crownover said the agreement should do wonders for morale.

“It’s been six years of frustration,” he said. “I’m sure we’ve frustrated them as much as we were frustrated as well.”