Employees try to stop mass exodus
As employees of the lowest paid sheriff’s department in the state, eight of 20 deputies, and 10 of 34 correctional officers have applied to other police agencies or the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, “That we know of,” Bollinger said on Thursday, Nov. 2.
“This is our home; we want to stay,” said Lassen County Sheriff’s Deputy Donnie Watson.
Watson, Bollinger and other members of the Lassen County Peace Officer’s Association are at impasse in salary negotiations with the county, meaning both sides have put forth offers but they don’t agree and have called in a mediator to take offers from one side to the other.
“We’ve been in mediation and we didn’t reach an agreement yet,” said County Administrative Officer John Ketelsen. “There was some progress. We feel there’s nothing more we can do on this side, but there may be reason to open up the mediation again.”
Ketelsen said the mediator will be back on Nov. 14 for meetings with the road workers. He said there may be some discussion with LCPOA at that time.
"The terms are so flux, anything you say may change in a minute,” Ketelsen said.
“We’re in the same fix that the rest of the county employees are,” said Joe Uruburu, a jail supervisor. “The salaries are low and the medical insurance is going up.”
Just to insure the employee, Uruburu said, each LCPOA member must pay $4,094.64 out of pocket a year. Family insurance costs $5,323.08 a year. Those prices go up 12 percent next month.
At the same time, salaries have not kept up with the cost of living.
“And now with the price of gas the way it is and the way homes have shot up in price, it’s very hard for anyone to rent or to buy a home within Lassen County,” Uruburu said. “And gas prices are not expected to go down; not a dollar, anyway.”
A deputy’s entry-level salary is $2,726 a month. That’s $693 a month less than deputies in Sierra County; $360 a month less than deputies in Plumas County, where the county pays almost $1,042 a month in medical insurance; and $30 less a month than Susanville Police Officers, who also have medical benefits fully paid by the city.
“The bottom line is Lassen County cannot compete with our neighboring allied law enforcement agencies,” Watson said.
As with other county employees, members of the sheriff’s department have been forced to apply for public assistance in the form of Healthy Families insurance for their children. One deputy said his children currently have no health insurance because he can’t afford it.
“Our years of experience within the department are dwindling, also,” Uruburu said.
Of 62 employees, only 23 have five years or more of experience. One employee has four years of experience. Four have three years of experience and 28 employees have two years of experience or less.
“And that’s because we’ve lost them to the surrounding counties and, of course the prison,” Uruburu said. “We can’t compete with the prison; we understand that.”
LCPOA employees have never asked for salaries comparable with the state, Bollinger said.
“We want to be real specific on not trying to get to CDC wages,” said Deputy Curtis Hubanks, “because we are trying to be fair and compete with the surrounding counties.”
LCPOA members must take courses to keep up with Peace Officer Standards and Training requirements and risk their personal safety on a regular basis to protect the citizens of Lassen County.
Many grew up here and don’t want to move away, Watson said, “They’re just making it financially very difficult for us to stay.”
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