The Glacier County Commissioners voted to increase the wages of the Glacier County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) and support staff at their Aug. 10 meeting in Browning.
Human Resources Director Mike Kittson explained one of the problems in dealing with law enforcement’s rate of pay is that deputies’ wages are set by the state as a percentage of the Sheriff’s wages. In addition, he noted officers are given credit for years of service, but up until recently none of those years would count if the officer didn’t receive a raise in those years.
With the county’s budget having been frozen for the last three years, Kittson said GCSO personnel lost out.
Kittson informed the Commissioners the law changed with the last legislative session so that now officers receive credit for years served whether they receive a raise or not.
In addition, he said another change in the law now permits the Commissioners to change the Sheriff’s salary without consulting the Glacier County Compensation Board.
“His budget has been slashed every year,” Kittson said. “We started with the least impactful departments [for budget cuts] at first, but in the last two years the Sheriff’s Office has two vacant deputy positions, and dispatchers and detention are short staffed.”
Kittson went on to note the department has several high mileage vehicles.
“We’re holding steady now with fewer people,” Sheriff Billedeaux said. “We couldn’t lay off some of them because of federal rules, but we looked at the new law, and we have all that for you to look over. So that’s the reason we’re here is to keep more people here. The new law helps the department – it’s a godsend.”
The Commissioners were advised the GCSO is asking for three different actions to be taken, the first being a 3% raise in the Sheriff’s salary. That takes care of the deputies, but separate actions would have to be taken to increase the hourly rate of dispatchers and detention officers.
Commissioners Overcast and Bremner stated public safety is a most important function of county government and expressed disappointment in the failure to obtain a mill levy increase from the public. They also said the attempt was flawed and that public outreach was limited due to the pandemic.
“Let’s not wait,” Bremner said. “At least bring their pay up to make up for the three years. We can use ARPA for public safety for now and in two years after that with our budget coming together, we can sustain it.”
“Yes,” concurred Commissioner DesRosier. “Let’s start today because it’s on the agenda as an action item.”
GCSO’s Jody Hickey said the 3% increase in the Sheriff’s salary would need to be supplemented by raising the dispatchers’ night differential from 63¢ to 75¢ per hour and the Sunday differential from 93¢ to $1 per hour. The detention officers’ rate of pay would need to be raised across the board in a separate action.
Kittson assured the Commissioners he would submit a choice of plans for funding the GCSO, including hazard pay for those who were required to work during the pandemic.
But for the present, Bremner called for the Commissioners to approve a motion for a 3% increase in the sheriff’s salary, which they did.
In response, Glacier County Treasurer Don Wilson complained the Chairwoman hadn’t asked for public comment before voting. Refusing to accept an apology from the Chairwoman, he called on her to rescind the motions and the vote, which she did.
Wilson then expressed his respect for the Sheriff, but said, “They haven’t demonstrated an ability to stay within their budget every year, and I don’t see where it will happen this year.”
Wilson restated his presentation from the previous meeting at the Satellite Office, concerning having been held at gunpoint and waiting for law enforcement to arrive.
The discussion grew heated between himself and Overcast, and the Chairwoman and Sheriff intervened to restore order.
“I said we would look into it the last time,” Bremner told Wilson, “and we’ve been doing that. You’re not on the back burner so please be patient for the answers.”
She further admonished everyone to be orderly. “I will not have the Commissioners out of order, and I will remove a Commissioner, if necessary,” she said.
Commissioners Overcast and DesRosier repeated their motions to approve the 3% increase in the Sheriff’s salary, which was approved. The Commissioners also voted to raise the communications supervisor’s wage by 50¢ per hour, the rest of the communications staff by $1 per hour, the night dispatcher differential by 12¢ per hour and the Sunday differential by 7¢ per hour. Finally, they approved raising the detention officers’ rate by $1 per hour.