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Sheriff wants deputies to be allowed to drive patrol cars home outside county

Currently more than one-third of deputies and more than one-third of employees overall in the sheriff&squo;s office live outside of Polk County.Abril made the request Monday during a county meeting. He said that allowing Polk officers to drive vehicles home would be beneficial for deputies and the county. He says it would improve response times for the sheriff&squo;s office and help recruit and retain officers.Many other area agencies also allow deputies to drive vehicles to homes outside the county they work in.Commissioners directed county manager Ryan Whitson and Sheriff Abril to come up with a mileage figure for those officers to pay the county for the outside county miles. Abril also said Polk officers are paid the least of area agencies.&uot;The cost of property and living in Polk County is not affordable for the deputies under their current salary,&uot; sheriff Abril said. &uot;Furthermore, surrounding counties and even local municipal agencies have better pay, better benefits and take home cars. We cannot keep the qualified employees we have now or recruit other qualified applicants with what we have to offer now.&uot;The sheriff told commissioners that in the past three months his office has lost three deputies, who took positions at other agencies with better benefits and pay.&uot;We attempt to hire deputies from Polk County whenever possible; however, there are very few people within Polk County who are BLET certified and qualified for the position,&uot; Abril said.The sheriff&squo;s office has six deputies who live outside Polk County. Of those six, two live within five miles of the county line and all six live within 20 miles of Polk County, according to Abril. He also said two investigation officers also live outside Polk County, but already have permission to drive vehicles home because they are on call 24-7.Commissioner Warren Watson said he had no problem with deputies driving vehicles home as long as the privilege is not abused. Officers should drive the cars home and park them and not run personal errands, he said.Commissioners Ted Owens and Tom Pack expressed some concern, but both agreed to allow the change if the officers paid the county mileage.Pack also mentioned a pay range study done about 2&rac12; years ago to see whether county employees were in line with average pay rates. He said the board did not adjust the salaries and maybe that should be studied again.Polk County officers&squo; starting salary is $23,130 with a 50 percent increase after six months of employment. Starting salaries in other surrounding counties and Polk&squo;s municipalities range from almost $25,000 to $35,000.