It goes without saying -- qualified job candidates often go where higher pay is offered. That can create challenges for law enforcement and fire service agencies with lower pay.

Paducah city officials recently approved new three-year labor agreements, which include wage increases, cost of living adjustments and other benefits for Paducah police and fire. It took place after January negotiations with the police department bargaining unit and International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 168. They take effect July 1.

The Sun reached out this week to McCracken County Sheriff Matt Carter, Marshall County Sheriff Eddie McGuire and Graves County Sheriff Jon Hayden about this issue.

"If our salaries stay where they are, there's about an $18,000 starting pay difference from what I can pay someone to what they're able to start them off at now," Carter said, regarding new hires without training.

Carter said Paducah has, historically, always been one of the higher paid agencies around the area and this will separate them even more.

However, he stressed that while the McCracken County Sheriff's Office pays less, that doesn't mean less qualifications and wants residents to know they're receiving first-class service and have first-class deputy sheriffs.

The sheriff's office is allotted 43 full-time sworn officers, including Carter. There are currently two openings for court security officers and one full-time deputy.

"We've got 16 that are going to be eligible ... to retire within the next 16 years," Carter said. "So, it's definitely something that is on my radar and something that I'm eager to, hopefully, work with our Fiscal Court to see if there are areas that we can gain salary increases for our guys."

He's looking forward to upcoming budget workshops, in hopes they can close the gap some, while McGuire is also looking ahead to budget talks.

"If you want good officers, you've got to pay them," McGuire said. "So, that's kind of the attitude we're going to go into budget talks with and see how it goes from there."

As an example, in July, there would be a pay difference of over $15,800 between a 20-year officer with the Marshall County force and a 20-year officer at Paducah, according to McGuire. A 20-year Paducah patrolman would make $30.13 an hour compared to $22.51 an hour in Marshall.

"We've done a good job the first year here in office, put together a good team, but our focus going into the budget talks will be to focus on retention," he said. "We don't have to get up to what Paducah makes, but we need to get close enough to where it wouldn't be worth the jump to go over there."

The Marshall County Sheriff's Office is staffed and recently filled its last open detective spot, but McGuire is expecting some retirements this year.

In Graves County, Hayden said the sheriff's office is in the "same boat" that a lot of agencies are. It's staffed at the moment, having graduated three new recruits from the police academy last fall.

"We're a relatively small agency, understaffed," he said. "Geographically speaking, we're probably third or fourth largest county in the state because we have a lot of area to cover. With any profession, these jobs are extremely competitive and when you have an agency that pays a significantly more amount of money, it's hard to keep the people that you do have.

"New recruits are looking for the best pay and best benefit package that they can get. It's extremely challenging for agencies to compete."

A deputy's starting pay is around $40,000 annually, Hayden said, if they've already been to the police academy. It's in the low to mid-$30,000 range if they haven't.

It can also be tough to replace officers when they leave for another agency. If they hire a new officer that needs training, it can be around a year before the hire benefits the department.

"I was able to get the deputies a raise last year and we were very thankful for what Fiscal Court did, but we're still, even with the raise that we were able to get the deputies last year - we're still $10,000 to $15,000 behind what some of the agencies in this area pay, that we compete with for manpower," he said.

The Sun also reached out to the Mayfield Fire Department.

Mayfield Fire Chief and EMS Director Jeremy Creason said Paducah's increase will obviously affect the department and neighboring communities. The department has four openings for firefighter-EMT and firefighter-paramedic positions.

He described the fire and EMS applicant pool as very limited, adding that "everyone wants to be competitive" and it constantly looks at surrounding departments. It's no different than other industries, such as car sales or retail, where employers have to pay a competitive wage for the job done.

"We were able to secure a pay increase a few months ago for the employees at the Mayfield Fire Department and that put us closer, but not equal to where Paducah was at," he said. "Now, through their negotiations, if they've received another increase … it widens the gap that we were working to close."

A firefighter recruit's starting pay is $39,000, along with $4,000 in state incentive pay, for $43,000 base pay, once they've finished training. However, Mayfield also runs EMS in Graves County, so it offers a paramedic stipend. If someone hires in as a firefighter-paramedic, the base pay is around $50,000, Creason explained.

"We try to provide a competitive working environment for each and every one of our employees," he continued. "It's good recruiting for the city.

"We invest a lot of money when we hire an employee and train them and get them acclimated to working in our department and, so it's a loss in multiple ways, when that employee decides to go to work at Paducah, where the salary's a little bit higher."

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