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Wadena County deputies to get 60 percent raise

Part-time deputies of the Wadena County Sheriff's Department will be getting a raise to $17.15 an hour as of Jan. 1, said Sheriff Mike Carr. The raise means an approximate 60 percent jump in pay for the deputies, and Carr said it's long overdue.

"It should probably have been one of the things we looked at three or four years ago," he said. "These guys put their lives on the line all the time for 10 bucks an hour."

Carr also said he and his staff pride themselves on having balanced the department's budget throughout the past several years, and the new pay raise will not ruin their streak. Luckily for the part-time deputies, several county-wide trends coincided at the same moment and let the sheriff's office pay more without having to request a higher budget from the county. Carr said a reduction in meth-related crimes and the addition of a second judge to the bench in Wadena County helped relieve the backlog of cases that had been piling up until recently. This in turn helped reduce the amount of fees paid by Wadena County for other counties to house its prisoners when local jails became too full. The money saved by the county will now finally let part-time deputies in the Wadena area receive the same pay as their full time counterparts, Carr said.

"They have the same type of training, the same education as full-time deputies do," he said.

At a meeting last month, the Wadena County Board of Commissioners agreed with Carr that the deputies deserved a raise, Board Chairman Ralph Miller said. He added that the board voted in favor of Carr's proposal, and the pay jump for Wadena part-timers became a reality.

"They were getting $10 an hour, and I believe that would have been the lowest pay of any county employees. I felt it was appropriate to increase it to the grade ... that was appropriate for their classification and position."

Board Member Rodney Bounds agreed.

"I have no problem with my voting for that," he said.

The wage increase will make Wadena more competitive with the pay rates of surrounding counties, and therefore aid in deputy retention, Carr said.

"We weren't getting any part- timers to work for us," he said. "Who wants to come and work for 10 bucks an hour when you can go and work for $18-21 an hour for some other agency?"

Carr recalled a point earlier in the process of deciding the increase when his office began studying the hourly rates paid by neighboring counties to their deputies. According to a wage information table provided by the sheriff's office, which details their study's findings, when compared to the wages paid by sheriff's departments in Becker, Cass, Hubbard, Otter Tail and Todd Counties, the previous wage paid to part-time deputies by the Wadena County Sheriff's Office was the lowest of them all.

The new wage increase will still put deputies at a lower pay rate than what any of the other sheriff's departments in the study currently offer, but at least now the gap between pay grades is mostly gone.

Carr referenced the recent shooting of a police officer in Cold Spring and an armed standoff last week in Wadena County as he spoke out in support of the pay raise for his deputies.

"You can't really put a price tag on public safety," he said. "If you look at the news, what you've seen in the last week in central Minnesota, there's some serious calls out here ... can you really put a price tag on that stuff? Not when lives are in jeopardy."