A contract with King County sheriff's deputies, negotiated by former county Executive Ron Sims and approved in 2008, included annual pay raises of 5 percent. As a result, the deputies were paid $11.8 million more last year than in 2007, according to a new audit.

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King County sheriff’s deputies received $11.8 million more pay in 2010 than they did in 2007, thanks to a generous five-year contract.

And that’s not counting the additional money that deputies received for rising health-care costs.

The labor contract, negotiated by former County Executive Ron Sims, has been controversial because it has given deputies and sergeants 5 percent annual wage increases as the county has struggled to balance its budget and most county employees have made wage concessions.

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Total payroll for deputies and officers is $72.6 million.

A “fiscal note” provided by the executive to the Metropolitan King County Council before the contract was approved in 2008 showed annual cost increases resulting from the deputies’ contract, but not the cumulative effect of the increases, according to the performance audit of the Sheriff’s Office by the county Auditor’s Office.

Auditors presented their findings to the council’s Government Accountability and Oversight Committee, whose chairwoman, Kathy Lambert, asked staff members to draft an ordinance “immediately” requiring that the executive spell out the cumulative cost of future labor agreements. “Our fiscal notes have to be absolutely clear,” she said.

County Executive Dow Constantine said in a written response to the audit that he will inform the council of annual and cumulative costs of contracts.

The Sheriff’s Office made significant cuts in staffing this year, after voters in 2010 rejected a 0.2 cent-per-dollar sales-tax increase supported by Sheriff Sue Rahr and after the county failed to reach agreement with deputies on wage concessions.

Auditors also found:

• King County spends more per resident on sheriff’s services than six other large Washington counties.

• The Sheriff’s Office has more patrol officers and total officers per 1,000 unincorporated-area residents than Kitsap, Pierce, Snohomish, Clark and Thurston counties, but fewer than Spokane County.

• Although the Sheriff’s Office decreased full-time staffing as urban areas have become parts of cities, patrol costs haven’t been cut to the same degree. The workload of patrol officers has dropped, and response times to 911 calls have improved.

• The Sheriff’s Office has streamlined its operations by consolidating precincts and eliminating some command positions.

It is too soon to determine the impact of this year’s deep, budget-driven cutbacks for property-crime detectives, the audit report said. Patrol officers are receiving on-the-job training to take over some of the former detectives’ duties, auditors wrote.

King County’s patrol costs are high in part because it’s difficult to serve geographically separated areas such as Skyway, White Center and Vashon Island, Rahr’s chief deputy, Steve Strachan, said.

“This is a $150 million-plus operation, and it’s funded by taxpayer dollars,” Strachan told the council committee.

“What I take from that audit is we should be continually aware and attentive to our business practices, attentive to our mission and respecting taxpayer dollars. In that we are all on the same page and will move forward.”

Rahr said in a written response to the audit that her department has eliminated 172 positions during the past four years, changed policing strategies and “cut entire units of service.”

The auditor reported health-care costs for deputies are higher than anticipated and have risen faster than those for most county employees.

Under their five-year contract, deputies have enrolled in the same plan as other employees. Senior auditor Larry Brubaker said it isn’t fully understood why deputies’ health costs are going up faster than those of other workers.

Deputies’ base pay is lower than that of Seattle police officers.

A first-year deputy last year earned $54,671 compared with $62,492 for a new police officer, the auditor reported.

Base pay for King County deputies was similar to that of deputies in other large Washington counties last year, but overtime, premium pay and health benefits pushed total compensation above $120,000 — far higher than in the other counties.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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