Flanked by uniformed deputies, Harford County Executive David R. Craig yesterday said a proposed pay raise for the sheriff's department will help retain and recruit talented personnel and serve as a prelude to hiring dozens of deputies in the coming years.
On average, eligible deputies could receive a salary increase of up to 16 percent, bringing their paychecks closer to the average of neighboring jurisdictions, government and law enforcement officials said yesterday.
"The quality of our public safety stands to suffer if we do not act now to compensate our personnel for doing one of the most dangerous jobs that exists in our society today," Sheriff L. Jesse Bane said.
Officials promoted the plan yesterday during a news conference during which Craig also formally announced the acquisition of land along U.S. 40 in Edgewood, where a new sheriff's precinct is expected to be completed by 2009.
The current Southern Precinct on Gateway Drive in Edgewood - the site of yesterday's presentation - houses more than 80 sworn deputies who work in a cramped former 7-Eleven that Bane likened to a cubicle. The county envisions transforming the former truck stop into an $11 million complex that also could include offices of the county health department.
"We're not just preaching about redevelopment, we're also doing it ourselves," said Craig, a Republican, who has encouraged limits on growth.
The money for the agency is part of the $980 million spending plan that Craig submitted to the County Council last week. The council will review the plan and approve a county budget for the coming fiscal year in the next few weeks.
Most of the $9.1 million increase to the sheriff's office - the largest of any county agency in Craig's proposed budget for the next fiscal year - goes toward salary and benefit increases. The improvement could have implications for Aberdeen's municipal force as well, where city government has promised officers parity with the county deputies.
At a similar event last year, Craig and then-Sheriff R. Thomas Golding said the new Southern Precinct would not be part of the county budget, funded instead through alternative means such as a public/private partnership. But this year's proposed capital budget calls for the construction to be paid through bonds.
Golding also had sought to add more than 190 deputies by 2008 - Craig added 50 last year and has pledged to hire 60 more law enforcement deputies over the next four years. An expansion of the Harford County Detention Center, due to be completed by 2009, will require 70 new correctional officers alone.
Union officials who spoke at yesterday's event applauded the pay raise, while reminding Craig of the staffing needs.
Officials said Craig initially wanted to fund the salary increases over two years to enable adding new deputies this year. But Bane said he was willing to delay the addition of new deputies to fund the salary increases in the next budget.