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Harford Sheriff Gahler explains why The Aegis is wrong and he is right about a pay raise [Letter]

Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler makes his case, again, for the necessity of a pay raise for the sheriff.
Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler makes his case, again, for the necessity of a pay raise for the sheriff. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS FILE / Baltimore Sun)

Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler wrote the following letter to The Aegis not only criticizing an editorial and editorial cartoon about his effort to get a pay raise for the sheriff, but also making another plea for the increase. Ed.

Editor:

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I write today in response to the wholly comical and inaccurate cartoon printed in the [Wednesday, Feb. 8] editorial section [of The Aegis], as well as some of the comments offered by the editorial staff.

The cartoon, depicting my desire to gain a much overdue increase in the salary for the elected office of Sheriff and as a secondary matter of importance, "something for these guys," was in poor taste and not reflective of the issue as a whole.

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While running for office and since serving as Sheriff, I made a commitment that although I felt the Sheriff's salary is in need of an adjustment, I would not pursue any increase until I was able to address salary increases for all Sheriff's Office employees. This is a promise I kept as we were able to pursue increases for all employees in the first two years and, supported with information from an independent salary study, establish a course to correct years of neglect. As the Sheriff's salary can only be changed at the start of a new term, I have worked with our employee groups, to set a path to correcting all the salary issues within the Office, while also addressing that of the Sheriff.

Four issues involving how Harford County pays its countywide police department, otherwise known as the Harford County Sheriff's Office, have come to the fore as the annual Maryland General Assembly session rolls along.

The proposed legislation to set the salary of the Sheriff to that of the elected State's Attorney (which is set to the equivalent of a District Court Judge) is consistent with at least the past 20 years. Researching back to 1997, the Sheriff and the State's Attorney's salaries mirrored the other until last year's change to the State's Attorney's salary plan. Not only is such a proposal not new, the concept of setting the rate to another pay scale that is similar in function, scope, duty and/or responsibility, it is also not unique. In Charles County, the Sheriff's salary is set to that of a Lieutenant Colonel with the Maryland State Police, in Queen Anne's County, the Sheriff's salary is set to that of the State's Attorney and in Baltimore City, the Sheriff's salary is set to that of a Baltimore County Command Staff member. There is no lack of transparency in this type of legislative action as the legislature always possesses the ability to make changes to the salary should it find it necessary due to changes in functions of the position.

Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler is seeking the support of elected officials to fix what his agency describes as a "broken" salary structure, a structure that is broken all the way up to Harford's chief law enforcement officer.

The salary for the Sheriff of Harford County is nearly $25,000 less than the only comparable Sheriff's Office in State (Charles County) which serves a population approximately 80,000 residents less. The Frederick County Sheriff's Office is approximately half the size of the HCSO, yet the Frederick Sheriff's salary is nearly $10,000 more. Three other Maryland Sheriffs have higher salaries and yet no responsibility for patrol or corrections. Finally, of the "Big Seven" Counties, the Harford County Sheriff's position is the paid less than all these police chiefs, yet in these counties there are three individuals separately employed for the functions of our Sheriff. As an example, in Anne Arundel County, the combined salaries for the Sheriff (courts and civil process), Police Chief (patrol) and Corrections Director (jail) is approximately $434,000 combined.

Internally, the salary of the Sheriff is below that of the Colonel, Warden, and law enforcement Majors, and is on par with that of a senior Captain in the Agency. Should we be successful in addressing the employee's pay scale as desired and outlined by the salary study, the salary for the Sheriff will then be equivalent to a senior Lieutenant, falling further down the salary structure. The current market rate for the position of Sheriff based on the salary study is $151,000. That is where the position should be placed today based on the study and does not account for the next two years before any increase is permitted by law.

Shortly after the start of the 2015 Maryland General Assembly session last month, Harford County's new sheriff asked the county's legislators to repeal a law which forbids him from having outside employment, but he later backed away from the request and says he will wait until next year to seek the change.

It is never the right time to introduce legislation to seek an increase for an elected position, but to wait until 2022 for any correction to a salary that is well behind a fair market value, is also not the right time. I have sought this action in the open and, again, after working diligently on my well known effort to address the needs of all of the employees of the Office.

Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler

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