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Sheriff Lamb asks for raises to keep and attract more officers
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FLORENCE — Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb asked for raises for deputies and detention officers to help slow their departure to higher-paying agencies in the Valley.

“We’re proposing a roughly 2.5% increase,” Lamb told the Board of Supervisors Aug, 25. “However, I’m here as your sheriff to challenge that you would maybe look at more than that. … My hope is that you would consider being a little more aggressive.

“Our goal is to improve this so we’re not constantly fighting so far from behind and get it a little closer.”

Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh, R-Coolidge, said he could support raises if it meant more coverage for eastern Pinal County. The sheriff replied the biggest need is in San Tan Valley, where sometimes as few as five deputies are responding to a population of 130,000.

A 2.5% raise still wouldn’t put the department where it would like to be, Lamb said, but he’s trying to propose improvements incrementally so as not to strain the county budget. The goal is to keep staff and also attract more “laterals,” or officers from other agencies willing to take a similar position for similar pay in Pinal County.

The board took no action Wednesday. Budget Director Angie Woods told the board her staff could potentially have a new pay scale and budget amendment ready for the board to consider in a month. She noted bringing up lateral employees who were originally hired at “half time” credit would have an additional cost as well.

Lamb said the county gives new deputies credit for half time, meaning if they arrived with 10 years’ experience they receive credit for five on the county’s pay scale. Lamb asked for an immediate change to offer credit for every year.

Cavanaugh asked if the sheriff had unfilled positions. Lamb said they’ve recently had 22 open deputy positions, including the 10 new positions the board authorized at budget time. He said they would be 18 short next week. They’re also down 18 at the jail, but they’re working to streamline the hiring process and get people on the job faster.

Copper Corridor

Cavanaugh asked if the sheriff had stationed additional officers in eastern Pinal’s Copper Corridor area.

Lamb said new officers will go to San Tan Valley as well as the Copper Corridor. “What I think I was talking about is per capita we already have more deputies in the Copper Corridor than we actually do in San Tan Valley or other areas,” the sheriff said, adding the Copper Corridor is “a high priority for us.”

Cavanaugh said he could support a raise if he could guarantee more deputies would be stationed in the Copper Corridor. He asked if the board could require this.

Deputy County Manager Mary Ellen Sheppard replied she couldn’t immediately say, as it’s the first time she had received such a question in her career.

Lamb said, “In an effort to avoid a ‘quid pro quo’ as to withholding a vote for a certain action, I think we would just have to assure you that our goal is to have maximum law enforcement services in that area. And I would commit to you that we would dedicate more of those resources to that area, because we would finally be fully staffed.”

Lamb said Pinal pays deputies 4.7% below the midpoint of the market, “and that’s including all those other agencies that we don’t lose anybody to.” Compared only to the agencies Pinal loses deputies to, such as Queen Creek, Mesa, Gilbert, Tempe, Phoenix and Chandler, the loss “would be much higher.”

For supervisory positions, such as sergeants and lieutenants, the pay gap is larger. “This has an effect on who wants to promote and the benefit of promoting, when we’re so far below the market,” Lamb said.

At the jail it’s better, where Pinal’s officers are 1.7% above the market midpoint, but supervisors earn less than the midpoint.

Lamb said a 2.5% raise would cost the county about $104,000 more than he budgeted for. Similar increases for jail staff would be $57,000 over budget.

Years of service

Also at the Aug. 25 meeting, the board recognized three employees for work anniversaries: Yvonne R. Gomez, victim advocate at the County Attorney’s Office, 25 years; Jason D. Agresta, sheriff’s sergeant, 25 years; and Tracy J. Hampton, deputy supervisor in the Recorder’s Office, 20 years.

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Pro barbecue contest coming to Florence Oct. 1-2
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FLORENCE — The inaugural “Showdown on Main-Pitmaster Challenge,” featuring more than 20 professional barbecue teams, will be held Oct. 1-2 in downtown Florence.

Visitors will have an opportunity to meet professional pitmasters, watch them work and sample competition-level barbecue. Tasting tickets will be for sale for $2 each for a 2-ounce serving. There will be food trucks, live music, a beer garden and performances by local students.

The event will begin from 6-9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 1, with live bands performing. The event resumes at 10 a.m. the next day. Florence Unified School District students will perform music and dance and present artwork and STEM projects (science, technology, engineering and math) from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A barbecue awards ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. and live bands will play from 5 to 9 p.m. to conclude the event. Proceeds will benefit the Florence Friends of Kids First Foundation, which supports students and school staff in many ways that can’t be done with state funding.

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New Florence library learning hub designed for job seekers
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FLORENCE — Adults looking to sharpen their skills for reentering the workforce, as well as teens looking for their first job, will have a new resource in a few weeks at Florence Community Library.

What is now the library’s teen room will be equipped with classroom seating and laptop computers where participants can learn computer programs like Microsoft and Photoshop, improve their resumes and cover letters, practice interviews and more.

The library received a grant of more than $23,600 to make the Library Learning Commons possible. “As we strive to be the heart of the community, we look forward to utilizing the space for education, collaboration and innovation,” Library Manager Gloria Moreno said.

The Library Learning Commons will support education and workforce development through programming and partnerships, Moreno said. The Florence economic development director and the Chamber of Commerce will participate, and Moreno is working toward other partnerships as well.

The teen room has the advantage of having a door directly to the lobby, which will allow flexibility for programs to happen when the library is closed. What is now the library’s tech room next door will become the family and teen room.

The first class could begin before the room is complete. Tre McClain has already agreed to teach Microsoft basics and fundamentals. He said, “Together we will not only better your skills but boost your confidence and give you a can-do attitude for evolving your tech skills.”

The library was awarded $23,637 from the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records. The dollars came from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which designated $200 million in pandemic response funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Moreno expressed thanks to the state library and the IMLS for making Florence’s program possible. The grant runs through August of next year, but Moreno said she’s hoping the partnerships and services will continue.