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Crowd rallies for deputy raises

by Tim Tedeschi - ttedeschi@chronicle-tribune.com

A crowd of around a hundred people gathered and overflowed into the hallway of Grant County Council chambers Wednesday night to show support for the Grant County Sheriff’s Department employees.

The support during council’s special budget meeting came in the midst of ongoing contract negotiations between the county and the International Union of Police Association (IUPA) Local 825, which represents all department employees.

Many uniformed sheriff’s deputies and other department employees showed up, while a number of supporters donned colorful shirts reading, “We stand with law enforcement.”

The large group assembled following a call to action from IUPA Local 825 President Matt Ogden in a press release which claimed the county council has not kept pace with a nationwide trend of rising wages for law enforcement officers and support staff.

Over an eight month period, Ogden researched and compiled comparative data from neighboring counties’ sheriff’s departments and found Grant County deputies on average make 30 percent less than their counterparts across the state, according to the release.

Similarly, Ogden’s research showed jail officers make between 8 and 36 percent less, dispatchers make between 10 and 51 percent less and clerks make between 9 and 61 percent less than similar-sized counties’ sheriff’s offices, including Wayne, Wabash, Madison, Boone, Wells and Howard counties.

“We are tired of losing members of our department,” Ogden said following the meeting. “We have tried to explain it to them.”

Council President Shane Middlesworth began the night by reading a statement on behalf of council stating they would not discuss the salaries of union members during the meeting.

“The county is currently involved with negotiations, and it is not appropriate to discuss these negotiations at this point,” he said.

Regardless of the council’s decision not to discuss the closed-door negotiations, most attendees stayed for the duration of the two-hour meeting.

“I’m overwhelmed by the community support that we’ve had tonight, and I look forward to finding solutions to fix this problem,” Ogden said. “We were actually surprised to hear negotiations were going on. ...We’ve tried to talk to them and we’ve been met with resistance 100 percent of the way, so when we heard that, we were actually shocked. So we’ll see what happens.”

Councilman Jonathan Perez said at the close of the meeting that while he’s not involved in the IUPA negotiations, he hopes the county will keep in mind the number of employees that have left due to low wages when making its decisions.

“I would just ask that the committee that is talking be cognizant of the fact that in the last eight years we’ve lost 16 deputies and 75 jail officers to other departments and other jobs,” he said. “That’s significant... and it needs to be addressed.”