Deputy pay

In this file photo from August 2018, a large group of Kern County Sheriff's deputies meet in front of the County of Kern Administrative Center on Truxtun Avenue in Bakersfield to raise awareness about low pay.

Kern deputies could soon be the highest paid law enforcement officials in the county under a new contract proposal approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The proposal, which must be voted on by the Kern Law Enforcement Agency before it is adopted, would raise the level of pay for all ranks and positions within the Kern County Sheriff’s Office above similar positions in Bakersfield Police Department, an agency that competes with the county for employees.

Although specific pay increases for individual positions were not available Tuesday, county officials claimed the salary increases would make the Sheriff’s Office among the highest-paid departments in the Central Valley.

“We’re trying to do what we can here to address a pretty significant business problem that we believe needs to be addressed,” said County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop.

For years, sheriff’s officials have said that low salaries were creating significant staffing issues for the department and had made recruitment difficult.

Deputies frequently patrol large areas of the county alone, and investigative teams have been stretched thin.

Sheriff Donny Youngblood went so far as to call the situation a crisis.

The county’s proposed contract would authorize $3.4 million annually for the pay increases, as well as $2 million for signing bonuses for entry-level recruits and transfers from other law enforcement agencies.

The county expects to spend $10.7 million next year to boost the Sheriff’s Office.

“I believe this is the most significant proposal, in terms of salary increases, that has been provided to the KLEA in a decade, if not more,” Alsop said.

Prior to the proposed contract, negotiations between the county and the sheriff’s union, KLEA, had stalled.

In May, supervisors declared an impasse in the negotiation process after union members overwhelmingly rejected the county’s “last and final” offer.

The offer included cuts to overtime pay, which is unpopular among deputies.

Alsop said the proposed contract did not include any economic concessions.

Shortly after Tuesday’s announcement, KLEA President Richard Anderson said he needed to study the proposal before forming an opinion.

“I don’t know what to think until I sit down and figure it out,” he said.

KLEA could soon vote on the county’s contract, which would last until June 30, 2022.