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Charles County government and the sheriff’s office can squeeze enough money out of their budgets to give sheriff’s deputies large raises in July, Sheriff Rex Coffey told the county commissioners Tuesday.

The deputies have forgone regular pay increases for the past three years as the county struggled to cut costs, but Coffey said belt-tightening across county government would raise the $3.3 million necessary to raise all deputies’ salaries to where they would have been without the cuts.

By scrimping, the sheriff’s office will have a budget surplus of about $500,000 when fiscal 2012 ends on June 30, Coffey (D) said. If his department repeats that feat in 2013, and county government kicks in $2.18 million, about twice as much, the entities will have raised the amount necessary, he said.

The plan will not go into effect unless the commissioners approve its inclusion in the fiscal 2013 budget. They took the first step toward that after the presentation, when they told fiscal and administrative staff members to find the money in the budget.

All county employees have done without their regular raises, but Coffey said deputies deserve special consideration because they work weekends and holidays and keep the peace in the county.

“It’s not that every other job county employees do is not important. We’re not here to ask for a handout. We’re here to ask for what we’re entitled to and we’re willing to squeeze to make this happen,” Coffey said.

The commissioners seemed sympathetic, expressing their support, with Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) calling the raises “richly deserved.”

On Jan. 24, sheriff’s deputies and union officials expressed dismay about language in a separate county bill that would limit deputies’ salary increases to what the Charles County Sheriff’s Office budget could accommodate, prompting members of the board of county commissioners to say they had no intention of antagonizing law enforcement.

At issue is the county’s modification of a bill submitted by the sheriff’s office to protect deputies from salary decreases. Currently, deputies’ salaries are tied to those of the Maryland State Police. At the request of the sheriff and the Charles County Fraternal Order of Police, the board of commissioners is considering legislation that would preserve deputies’ salaries even if state troopers’ pay falls, while retaining raises when troopers’ pay rises. The measure was prompted by recent state police pay cuts.

But deputies, about a dozen of whom attended the work session, objected to a provision limiting raises to what the office could afford within its existing budget and pay plan, both of which are approved annually by the commissioners. Instead, they are seeking language that would compel the county to come up with additional money from elsewhere in the budget to pay the higher salaries.

County Attorney Barbara L. Holtz stood by the change.

“We can’t have a pay plan adopted by the state police trump what the county commissioners adopt as the budget for the sheriff. It has to be an approved budget. The money has to be there,” Holtz said.

But commissioners seemed to backtrack.

“I would just say the next steps will give us the opportunity to work on that kind of language,” commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said. “I think the most important thing you’re hearing is this board believes in the autonomy of the sheriff. … Obviously, once we do that [approve a pay schedule] — I’m speaking as an individual commissioner — we have a responsibility to honor that commitment to make sure the money is there in the sheriff’s approved budget and funded pay plan.”

Commissioner Reuben B. Collins II (D) said, “I don’t think the position of any of the commissioners [is] that, in terms of salary increases, that’s something that’s not been warranted. What has always been a challenge, obviously, is ensuring we have the additional funding.”

Cpl. John Elliott, Fraternal Order of Police president, said raises would keep deputies from defecting to the higher-paid Prince George’s County Police Department. He said he thought the county had not meant any harm in changing the wording, but that deputies should receive raises regardless of the sheriff’s office budget, with the county obligated to find the money elsewhere if necessary.

“I think it’s just language attorney Barbara Holtz said they were trying to clarify. In the sheriff’s office’s eyes it made it a little more cloudy,” Elliott said.

emitrano@somdnews.com