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OLATHE, Kan. — Tensions between the Johnson County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) and local law enforcement could result in a fight in the courts.

Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden said he’s working with attorneys to potentially bring legal action against the county if more funding isn’t made available to increase deputy pay. 

“One of the things a sheriff can do, if we feel it affects our ability to hire, we can serve them a Writ of Mandamus and make them fund us basically. I think that’s the point where we’re at,” Hayden told FOX4.

“I’ve already initiated and talked with our attorneys. The Supreme Court ruling is pretty clear on it. To my knowledge, I don’t think a sheriff has ever lost a case in the State of Kansas when they request for funding.” 

Currently the sheriff’s department has more than 60 vacant deputy positions. Hayden is requesting the BOCC approve additional funding for the department to support an increase to deputy pay in an effort to attract new employees.

“When we approved the 2023 budget, there was a total budget increase for the sheriff of $6 million. That included many different factors including CIP (Capital Improvement Program), salary, etc.,” BOCC Chair Ed Eilert said.  

“We chose to pass the $1.64 billion budget without addressing an issue that we knew was standing in front of us. I think that we are going to have to look at our budget and we are going to have to make priorities, but public safety has to be our focus,” Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara said.  

During the committee of a whole meeting Thursday, commissioners voted 4-2 to recommend staff draft plans to transition to a step pay plan for the sheriff’s department based on the current market. 

The BOCC will review a plan next week recommended by the Human Resources Department to increase starting deputy pay. The proposed plan would increase starting pay to approximately $55,120 annually for a first year deputy. The plan would also allow the department to provide new deputies with a $5K starting bonus and a $10K bonus for new deputies with previous law enforcement experience.

Earlier this year the BOCC approved $3,000 retention bonuses to help maintain staff in the corrections department and in the sheriff’s office.

Currently deputies are paid at a minimum rate of about $49,939 annually, and a maximum rate of $81,432. Deputy County Manager Maury Thompson said the county offers a fairly high salary range minimum, but the salary range maximum for deputies is among the lowest. 

“This would adjust our entry level to $1 above the highest [paid rate]. [This] places the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office at the highest in terms of entry level wage,” Thompson said. 

To increase deputy compensation for the remainder of 2022 would cost the county roughly $2.9 million. Thompson said if the board were to approve this pay scale for the sheriff’s department, it would cost approximately $10.8 million to fund the increase in 2023. 

That proposal would increase starting deputy pay by more than 10%, but still falls short of the proposal put forward by Hayden. The proposal recommended by Hayden would increase starting deputy pay to approximately $64,128 annually. 

“I think it’s another example of not adequately funding law enforcement in Johnson County,” Hayden said. 

The BOCC is scheduled to discuss the proposed pay scale adjustment during the next business session meeting on Sept. 22.