Top cops threaten walk-out over pay


— The man who runs the nuts and bolts of the Routt County Sheriff's Office says he's on the verge of resigning if something isn't done about staffing and wages.
The lieutenant who runs the jail indicates he might follow.
"The commissioners keep saying people are their priority. I don't want to hear it. I want to see it on my paycheck," Undersheriff Dan Taylor said. Taylor is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the department.
"I'm kind of speechless," Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak responded upon being told of Taylor's comments. Stahoviak said Taylor, Sheriff John Warner and Lt. Fred Johnston had spoken with the board of commissioners earlier this week, and without that tone.
"Like the other departments, they talked about how they're having to compete more for the work force," Stahoviak said. "I thought the meeting ended positively."
Taylor said his overworked employees reached the boiling point when they learned that an assistant county attorney was recently given a $5,000 raise.
"The commissioners stepped out of the county's pay program to give the county attorney more money so he could compete with the private sector. Our employees view that as a slap in the face," Taylor said. "It made us feel that we're not as valuable."
During an interview Tuesday, Taylor, Warner and Johnston also indicated that Routt County could suffer a severe liability if something isn't done soon to retain deputies.
There's been an 83 percent turnover at the sheriff's department in the past five years, and there are currently five deputy positions unfilled.
"Our staff is burned out and tired. I'm willing to work with the commissioners to resolve it, but I don't want it on the back burner anymore," a frustrated Taylor said.
"People cannot come and live here for $30,000," he added, referring to a new deputy's salary.
"I'm amazed they're saying this," Commissioner Ben Beall said in a later interview. "We've tried everything we can; it's a matter of budget.
"It's a shame the sheriff's department isn't working as a team with the rest of the county."
Beall said there's a legal cap on what counties can collect from residents.
"Citizens have said the governments have to be lean. It's not an easy job, the priorities aren't visible all the time."
Taylor said he's not trying to start a confrontation with the commissioners, he just wants to sit down with the board and talk some more.
"I was ecstatic they (the board of commissioners) gave the employees a raise last year, but what we need to do is fix the current problem," Taylor said.
Taylor said there are a number of deputies who have more than 100 hours of vacation and holiday time accumulated, and it's only September.
"I have to give them time off," Taylor said. Only 80 vacation hours can be carried over to the next year.
That means Taylor, the sheriff and Johnston, who are salaried employees, have to work double shifts themselves for no extra pay. Both Taylor and Johnston have second jobs as well.
"I'm not going to do it anymore. I'm not going to lose a marriage over it," Taylor said.
Stahoviak said the board wasn't informed of a drastic vacation problem.
"With extenuating circumstances, they can come and request to carry it (extra vacation time) over," Stahoviak said.
Johnston said it's more than a vacation issue. An overworked and understaffed crew can become an extreme liability issue for the county, he said.
"There has been numerous nights when there's been one deputy covering 2,205 square miles. Someone's going to get hurt," he said
Johnston pointed out that it would take a deputy on patrol in Clark 50 minutes to answer a call from Yampa.
"There is case law that suggest it's not a good defense to say you don't have enough money to pay your people," Johnston said. "A big lawyer with a cigar would sit here and say, 'Is 50 minutes an adequate response?'"
"People don't want to hear 'I couldn't hire someone, that's why your daughter was raped,'" Taylor added.
Stahoviak seemed genuinely stunned when told of the picture being painted by the sheriff's department.
"They haven't given us any of that information. They said they were short deputies; they didn't present those drastic terms to us," Stahoviak said.
Beall pointed out that the sheriff's department was given two extra deputies just two years ago. He said the sheriff's problems aren't unusual.
"It's happening around the country, everybody's struggling. It's a full employment economy," Beall said.
And Taylor knows that. He just received another resignation from a longtime veteran.
"He can make twice what he's making here," Taylor said.
Johnston said it has gotten to the point that Routt County can't even recruit academy graduates.
In fact, the sheriff's department recently ran an ad for a patrol deputy for six weeks.
"We only had one certified applicant, and he had a larger criminal history than most of the people in this facility," Taylor said.
Taylor also pointed out that the Steamboat Springs Police Department pays its officers $7,000 to $8,000 more than the sheriff's department.
"Why would you work here?" Taylor asked. He said he could name three deputies he lost to Steamboat.
Johnston also said he often has only two deputies looking out for 30 to 40 prisoners at night.
"One of the deputies can't leave the control room," Johnston said. "If a fight breaks out, they need to call in another deputy. By that time, a prisoner could be dead."
Taylor seemed particularly upset that the commissioners could find $5,000 to give a county attorney a raise.
"Last time I checked, the county attorney wasn't carrying a pager 24 hours a day, and last time I checked he hadn't been shot at," Taylor said.
" or kicked or spit at," Warner added.
Stahoviak found the harsh words of the sheriff and his two right-hand men puzzling.
"Look at the plaque on our hearing room wall. It's a thank you from the sheriff's employees for a salary survey and raise," Stahoviak said.
The survey was done in 1999, and raises were given effective Jan. 1, Stahoviak said.
For example, an entry-level deputy went from $25,707 to $29,943 per year.
A mid-point deputy went from $30,243 to $34,780 per year.
"All our employees received substantial raises after this salary survey," Stahoviak said.
Beall added that another survey will be conducted next year, and that all employees get annual raises.
"We work real hard on our budget to try and address employees' needs and salary needs," Stahoviak said. "We just can't go out and raise taxes to increase salaries. We can only compete with the private sector so much. Working for the government has never been lucrative."

To reach Frances Hohl call 871-4208


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