Lincoln County Board rejects police pay raise in what sheriff calls “pure politics”

Lincoln County Board rejects pay raise to police officers
Published: Jun. 29, 2022 at 11:14 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Although he is not sounding any alarms, Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Swenson said things could get dire if his officers don’t receive raises that will make their pay competitive.

He is afraid of losing some of his best deputies, and that he won’t be able to attract the quality of candidates the department needs when officer vacancies occur.

”When the county that the City of Sioux Falls shares with us is six to twelve thousand dollars a year better in pay, and honestly they have better health insurance benefits, that’s where I would apply.”

Swenson is referring to Minnehaha County, which has three times Lincoln County’s population and more resources. He has spent the last two days fielding angry phone calls from his deputies after they were denied pay raises by the county board in Tuesday’s meeting by a vote of 4-to-1.

This came immediately after the same board voted 3-to-2 to raise wages for all other Lincoln County employees by 10 percent, effective in the next pay period.

”It really was a slap in the face,” Swenson said. “The deputies are very disappointed. They feel unappreciated.

“It was pure politics. The damage it has done to the morale of the sheriff’s deputies yesterday is inexcusable.”

Three of the four board members Dakota News Now spoke with on Wednesday confirmed the rejection of the pay raise was more about politics than a belief that the deputies did not deserve a raise.

In other words, the police force is being used as a pawn in a political game, one of the commissioners told Dakota News Now.

So how and why did it happen?

The Board decided to leave out police officers (not including sheriffs and staff) in its 10 percent raise proposal for all county employees, and instead brought a separate measure proposing a slightly lower wage increase for officers (9.25 percent) than all other county employees because the deputies are unionized and received slightly higher raises last year.

Chairman Tiffani Landeen cast the one ‘yes’ vote, adding the remark, “not that it matters.”

“Now everybody’s got a raise except for the guys wearing the bulletproof vests,” Landeen said after the vote was made.

Lincoln County will have to raise taxes on its residents to help pay for any county employee compensation hikes.

Commissioner Jim Jibbon — known for commonly voting ‘no’ on any measure that raises taxes — voted against the police pay raise measure because, as he told DNN, he didn’t think Tuesday was the appropriate time. He wants to wait for more negotiations with the police union to land on a number.

Commissioner Jim Schmidt didn’t think the proposed raise for deputies was high enough.

”What I thought we were going to do was give a 10 percent across the board raise to everyone, bar none,” Schmidt said.

He also said he regrets voting ‘no,’ because he realizes how the board is “looking like a bunch of fools” for going against the police force 4-to-1.

Michael Poppens not only doesn’t regret his ‘no’ vote, he admitted he was doing it for this political reason:

”To bring to light of some of the issues that reside in the county, specifically with the commission,” Poppens said.

He calls the board dysfunctional.

”We have a situation with our commissioners that are, in my opinion, not working well together.”

Specifically, Poppens said most board votes on any financial matter in the county, like the 10 percent wage increase for all employees, ends in a 3-to-2 result. He singled out Jibbon and vice chairman Joel Ahrends as the serial ‘no’ voters, and he doesn’t think the down-the-line habit sends a healthy message to county residents.

What bothers Poppens the most is there is little to no explanation from Jibbon and Ahrends on why they always vote ‘no.’ The police pay raise vote came after almost zero discussion on the matter.

When confronted with how furious so many police officers are, and Schmidt’s remark about Tuesday’s vote making commissioners “look like fools,” Poppens did not back down on his ‘no’ vote for police wage increases.

“We still have the opportunity to put that into place,” Poppens said. “It is not a done deal, in my perspective. It is not a one vote and done. We have the opportunity to come back, revisit this and revisit it and revisit it until we get a perspective where the public understands where we’re at instead of just looking at our record and seeing 3-to-2, 3-to-2. Let’s have the two individuals get on the record and say why they do or don’t support it, whether it is 10 percent or something else.

“We need their dialogue. We sat on that motion, and there was no discussion about it. It came up to the vote and it was just voted down.”

Schmidt said he will call to motion a vote on a 10 percent pay increase for all Lincoln County police officers at this Tuesday’s meeting.

“I may not even get a second,” Schmidt said. “I don’t know where this will end up, but I do know we are going to make clarification so that we know our sheriff deputies know that we do support them and we plan to compensate them in the fashion they deserve.”

Jibbon predicted that officers will “unfortunately” get a raise eventually because he realizes the salaries need to be competitive to keep retain officers and avoid a shortage of them.

But asked what he would tell any irate and already-disenchanted officer who might threaten to leave the department and seek higher-paying jobs, Jibbon said, “that’s their decision.”

Landeen, the lone ‘yes’ vote on Tuesday, said she was at the Minnehaha County Courthouse on Wednesday, and although she is on a different county’s board, was thanked by Minnehaha County officers for voting to help her own deputies.

“There’s a reason why they unionize,” Landeen said. “We need to run the courts like a business and compete with other counties like a business.

“The politics of this are ridiculous.”

Commissioner Ahrends did not respond to Dakota News Now’s request for comment.

Sheriff Steve Swenson uses money from his own pocket and raises money to pay deputies

The Sheriff says he is writing a check for Lincoln County deputies to bridge the gap- after a vote by the county board denied them a pay raise. The money he’s using to give to the deputies is coming out of his own pocket and he is also collecting donations on his website, The Sheriff told Dakota News Now, that he ran it through his attorney and received approval to use the campaign donations for the checks. There are 22 deputies receiving a check, which amounts to $11,000.

Sheriff Swenson shared the news on Facebook as well, click here to see the post.

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