HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Dec. 12, 2019)—In a split vote the Commissioners of St. Mary's County voted against aligning the salary schedule for sheriff's office deputies with that of their counterparts in Charles County and the Maryland State Police.
Those who voted against the measure, Commissioner President James "Randy" Guy, Commissioners Mike Hewitt and Todd Morgan all expressed their support for paying deputies more, but said they wanted to have more up to date budget numbers in the coming weeks before making a decision.
Recent budget projections show that the county will have to make up a $3 million deficit.
But Commissioners Eric Colvin and John O'Connor, who made an impassioned plea for the salary increase and got in a heated discussion over the issue with Hewitt, said the county was wasting money each year by losing deputies to other agencies with better pay and having to constantly pay to train new ones.
"We all know why we're here," said Sheriff Timothy K. Cameron. "It's about attrition… the question is can you afford not to [match the pay scale]
"If we don't do something, we're going to lose tenured employees to Charles County."
Deputies got a nearly 10 percent increase in pay three years ago, but they continue to go to agencies which pay more.
Budget projections from the sheriff's office showed that the pay scale proposal would have cost an additional $1.3 million in fiscal 2020 and a recurring cost increase of $4.1 million for fiscal 2021.
O'Connor said the county had spent an extra $24 million over the past several years above maintenance of effort for the county school system while the sheriff's office had returned millions of dollars because it could not fill vacancies.
He said there had been recent discussions with the Fraternal Order of Police and the county about the new structure for pay and others who now wanted more information could have attended.
"To say there is not enough information, that's a choice," O'Connor said. "The money is there, it's called saying no to someone else.
"We have the money, everything else is an excuse."
He chided Hewitt for initially wanting to abstain from the vote and later in the debate claimed Hewitt was taking "the coward's way out" for wanting to abstain though he said he supported the idea of a raise for deputies.
"Why do you have to make it personal," Hewitt retorted, soon after voting no in a roll call vote.
At the start of the debate Hewitt said to Cameron: "I want to give you an increase in pay… but can we afford to?" Hewitt later said: "We need to get the total picture of how much it will cost."
"We are wasting taxpayer money each year through having to retrain people," Colvin said.
O'Connor said he would support a tax increase in 2022 if it were necessary to pay for salary increases for deputies.
"We can't do this anymore," O'Connor said of not boosting deputy pay.
The hearing room was filled with members of the FOP waiting for the vote; one woman called out: "Shame, shame, shame on you," after the proposal was rejected.
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