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The Charles County Fraternal Order of Police filed a lawsuit Wednesday claiming the county violated the “express and unambiguous terms” of its own code by adopting a fiscal 2015 budget that does not include an adjusted pay scale or annual salary step increase for sheriff’s deputies.

The lawsuit cites a provision in the county code that states the pay scale for the Charles County Sheriff’s Office deputies “shall correspond” to that of Maryland State Police officers.

The current pay scale for deputies mirrored that of the MSP during fiscal 2014, but the state altered the salary schedule for its officers in fiscal 2015, and the county did not amend its own scale accordingly, county FOP President John Elliott said.

The altered MSP salary scale includes decreases for some ranks at lower steps but generally provides pay raises for all ranks beyond five steps.

Charles County sheriff’s deputies also did not receive a step increase in the $354.5 million fiscal 2015 budget, in violation of the county code, which states deputies “shall receive the salary for the next step within their rank” annually, according to the lawsuit.

“The wording is very straightforward,” Elliott said. “It’s says ‘shall receive.’ It’s not ambiguous.”

Elliott estimated that, between the unadjusted pay scale and skipped step increase, deputies are missing out on between $4,000 and $5,200 in salary each.

“The County’s deliberate failure and/or refusal to adopt this adjusted pay scale and to approve annual salary steps constitute a direct violation of the Charles County Code and should be remedied by the Court,” the lawsuit states.

The budget increased funding for the sheriff’s office by 2.1 percent, far short of the increase requested by Sheriff Rex Coffey (D) and the amount needed to fund pay raises.

“We are in the process of analyzing it and have no comment at this time,” Deputy County Attorney Elizabeth Theobalds said in reference to the lawsuit.

Elliott said the FOP was prepared to sue the county last year when deputies were three steps behind, but the county commissioners ultimately funded those plus the step due in fiscal 2014.

“But now we’re back to the same situation,” he said. “Obviously, we feel that the county’s responsible for their own county code. We don’t want to go through with this lawsuit, but they’re giving us no choice.”

Elliott said the FOP also agreed last year to come off the MSP pay scale in exchange for collective bargaining rights, but the commissioners failed to support the requisite legislation.

“We told them we understand it’s very difficult for the county to fund something that is decided by the state. They’re not thinking about Charles County when they do that, and the county gets no more funding from the state when the governor or the state decides to give the police more funding, and we understand that,” Elliott said. “However, we can’t just be left to the will of the county without having some type of rights to bargain for our salaries, benefits and health care.”

Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles) was prepared to sponsor a bill during the 2014 Maryland General Assembly session that would have given the county’s deputies collective bargaining power, but the commissioners “drug their feet and played political games, and we were left where we didn’t have enough time to get the bill through,” Elliott said.

“We hope the new board of commissioners will work with us to get the collective bargaining bill through next year,” he said.

jnewman@somdnews.com