Sheriff Matt Carr says that for him to run a successful sheriff’s office his employees who live in Teton County should receive housing stipends.
“It’s critical,” he told the Teton County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday morning during his 2020 budget presentation. “In the last five years we have had 35 employees leave within their first year largely due to the cost of living.”
Carr said that to compete with what the state of Wyoming gives its Teton County employees in housing assistance, his staff members who live locally should receive $1,489 per month.
“Any state worker who resides in Teton County receives $1,489 per month in housing allowances,” Carr said.
That would come out to $536,040 in housing assistance per year if the number of sheriff’s office members who live in Teton County remained the same.
“Our 2020 overall request without the housing allowance and overtime is lower than the 2019 request,” he said.
Carr’s pleading isn’t new.
It’s a topic that has been brought before commissioners before. In 2015 a salary study suggested commissioners give a housing allowance to emergency workers and new hires.
In 2017 Sheriff Jim Whalen told elected officials that his office could not properly serve the community because so many deputies lived in Star Valley and Teton Valley, Idaho.
Whalen even developed a tiered system in which he proposed some employees would receive $800 per month and others $400 per month, depending on their position.
Lt. Lloyd Funk, who has worked at the sheriff’s office for the better part of 28 years, told commissioners in August 2017 that the issue is vital.
“When I started, everyone who was an emergency responder lived in Teton County,” Funk said. “I don’t care if I get a stipend. I really don’t. I got my piece of the pie. It’s for the new employees we hire and to try to keep them here.”
Carr’s proposal has the same motive as Whalen’s — to have enough cops in Teton County to respond to calls for service — but Carr’s plan would give the same stipends across the department for dispatchers, deputies, detention officers and administrative employees.
“I think everyone is critical in running the sheriff’s office,” Carr said.
Of the 67 Teton County Sheriff’s Office employees, Carr said 30 live in Teton County.
But only four of those 30 employees are sworn deputies, meaning every time Teton Pass or the Snake River Canyon closes because of severe weather, the Teton County Sheriff’s Office is crippled when responding to calls.
“We are very isolated in those situations,” he said. “If we have a large incident we can’t get the resources there.”
Carr said his office is close to being fully staffed after a decadelong employee shortage. But recruitment is just as challenging as retention, he said.
“As soon as job candidates start to do their homework about what it’s like to live here, we lose them,” he said.
Carr said his veteran employees have been forced to plant roots in other communities.
But the stipend isn’t for them.
“Do I think people are going to sell their homes in Star Valley and move here? No,” he said. “But it builds a future for our younger staff members to rent in Teton County.”
Commissioners were concerned about not being able to predict how many sheriff’s office employees will move to Teton County at any given time.
“What if someone who lives in Alpine decides to move to Teton County?” Luther Propst asked.
“We will have to create a policy with human resources that will be realistic as the number fluctuates,” Carr said.
Carr, who took office in January, said the housing allowance is one of his biggest priorities.
“The commissioners have to make some tough choices,” he said. “I hope they choose to support emergency services personnel living and working in Teton County.”