EVERETT — Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney didn’t ask the County Council for money to hire more deputies as it crafted its 2023 budget.
He told them he wanted to be able to pay better salaries to the deputies already on duty, to keep them from leaving, and hopefully make it a bit easier to recruit new hires.
A new contract boosting salaries of deputy sheriffs by 19.5% is viewed as critical to the effort. Fortney, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers and Snohomish County Deputy Sheriff’s Association President Jonathan Krajcar signed the agreement earlier this month.
“Public safety is our top priority, and this new contract is one piece that will help us increase staffing, improve our effectiveness, and proactively serve our community,” Fortney said. “The new labor agreement will help us recruit and retain our dedicated and professional deputy sheriffs in Snohomish County.”
In a statement, Somers said the accord “will ensure we are doing everything possible to retain our law enforcement professionals.”
The contract, he continued, “is one part of an overall strategy to ensure we are addressing street-level crimes, working to counteract the fentanyl crisis, and helping to move people out of homelessness into a more stable life. All of these pieces work together to improve public safety and help some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”
Staffing challenges — which have plagued law enforcement agencies across the state — have persisted for months in the sheriff’s office.
When Fortney spoke to the council a month ago, he said he had 52 vacancies on the law enforcement side and another 50 vacancies in the corrections operation. Collectively, roughly one-eighth of all jobs in the sheriff’s office were open.
Lack of staffing led him to close a precinct and disband the Office of Neighborhoods in order to redeploy deputies to patrol. District courts have been shuttered when they didn’t have marshals to staff them. And overtime costs may be $1 million over budget, according to the sheriff’s office presentation to the council.
Staffing shortages also scuttled an agreement with Whatcom County to have it send people to the county jail in downtown Everett. Corrections officers are not covered by the new contract.
The deal with the Deputy Sheriff’s Association covers 250 employees and spans four years, from April 1, 2021 to March 30, 2025. It provides pay hikes of 4% in the first year, 8% in the second year, 6.5% on April 1, 2023 and an increase of at least 1% the following April.
Terms of the contract are retroactive. Employees will receive a lump sum payment for salary earned going back to April 2021. For some, that payment will exceed $10,000, county officials said.
Prior to the agreement, starting pay for a deputy was $66,671 a year, according to a recent job posting. Under the contract, the base pay in 2022 jumps to $74,886 with those at the top step making at least $98,055 a year. It takes about four years to reach the top level.
With next April’s increase, salaries will range from $79,753 to $104,429 respectively.
Employees are also eligible for additional pay for their years of service or college degrees. It varies by employee. For example, in 2022, a top-step deputy with 10 years experience and no college degree would make $101,487, according to county officials.
The contract will put salaries of deputies at the top step in line with what police officers are earning in cities in the county, Krajcar said.
Time will tell how if it will slow the exodus and help the sheriff’s office fill roughly 50 vacancies in its law enforcement side.
“I’m hoping it will help,” Krajcar said. “If we’re still facing a lot of openings six months to a year from now, then I think we’ll have to go back to the table to see what’s going on.”