Sheriff Helms working with county to supply more livable wages to deputies

Mitch Prentice
Lake Sun Leader
Camden County Sheriff Tony Helms.

Since his reelection, Camden County Sheriff Tony Helms has been looking towards continuous improvement in the department. In an August interview with the Lake Sun, Helms mentioned that in his first four years as Sheriff, he was proud of the work done to achieve raises for the department. With at least four more years to go, Helms is shifting this goal into the next phase. The goal now is to move these wages even further forward.

So far, the raises given to the department have been increased wages awarded by the commission to stay above a minimum wage level. Helms sees this move as commendable, but he wants to increase what his deputies are making to a more livable wage.

“I personally don’t care how we achieve this goal, but it’s going to take somewhere around $500,000 to bring every deputy up to a minimum pay of $40,000,” Helms said.  

Alongside this increase, Helms also wants to see an incremental increase in pay throughout the department to give fair wages to the rank structure.

One of the concerns with this increase in pay is the amount the county would have to pay extra in benefits, insurance and retirement funds for these workers. It would factor as an 11% increase based on the raise given.

For Helms, the biggest benefit would be the ability for the county to keep trained officers and department workers instead of having them move on to better-paying municipalities. Every time a new deputy is hired to replace a vacant position, Helms says the county pays thousands of dollars to retrain. This happens on a yearly basis.

On top of this concern, Helms is generally concerned about losing the high quality of deputies they have on the force. With nearby municipalities paying upwards of $8,000 more than the current Camden County wage, he says they are in constant threat of having respected officers move somewhere else. Helms says that the severe risk taken on by deputies on a daily basis is worth the extra pay and he fully supports their decision when it comes to being paid fairly. 

“I was elected to run this Sheriff’s office,” Helms said. “Commissioners were elected to supply and support the purse strings of the county to find out where the money needs to go. Both are tough jobs, I’m telling you. I didn’t think they elected me to go out and find the money for this department. I didn’t know that was part of the job, but you know what, I’ll do that because my people getting paid a living wage, not having to live on food stamps and keeping quality people is much more important than saying ‘Oh, that’s not my job.’”

As for how the county could go about securing these funds, that’s where it becomes less clear. Helms understands that a quarter-cent sales tax would be possible, but also mentioned that he’s aware that other departments are just as in need of the funds. Commissioner James Gohagan agreed with this feeling and says that he feels the community would be in favor of passing a tax to support the department. However, he says he would not be in favor of any extra county taxes to support this endeavor until other county departments are balanced and funded properly

Commissioner Don Williams says that he sees the current state of sheriff’s department wages to be bad for morale and that it presents an added long-term drain on the County budget. He specifically mentioned that nurses’ pay at the County Health Department is well below the comparative pay in the private sector and the pay of all county employees, especially in the Administration Building, needs to be increased by a substantial amount to be competitive.

However, looking at the entire county, Williams says that the most severe need for funding is in the Road and Bridge Department. 

“In 2019, I asked the Missouri University Extension Center to perform a comparative study regarding the Road and Bridge funding of Camden County compared to that of other first class counties,” Williams said. “ Former R&B Administrator Lee Shuman had already looked at the issue and I wanted to have an outside organization study the matter as well.  The Extension arrived at approximately the same conclusions. According to the Extensions’ figures, the other first class Missouri counties spent an average of about $11,000.00 per lane-mile.  By comparison, Camden County spent about $,3,611.00 per lane-mile – about 70% less than the first-class county average for Missouri.  To match that average, Camden County’s R&B budget would almost have to triple.”

Williams continued, saying that he has been working frequently with the University Extension and that they have performed some valuable research for the county.  He says they did a comparative study of our Sheriff’s Office with that of Taney County and the results demonstrate “the excellent job our officers are doing.” 

Williams says that last summer, the University began a study utilizing university students to look at the revenue generation issue.  He says they provided a preliminary report last summer and they are currently engaged in more in-depth research, allowing the county to make decisions founded upon unbiased information.

“The Sheriff and I have had many discussions over the last couple years about this and I look forward to working Sheriff Helms in solving this problem,” Williams said.