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GOLDEN - Jefferson County deputies are suing the sheriff and county commissioners.

Deputies claim the county owes them money for unpaid overtime and broken promises about salary.

The largest full-service sheriff's office in Colorado is also the lowest paying.

Salary numbers from 2011 show, of 20 metro area law enforcement agencies, Jefferson County ranks dead last with the highest salary being $67,362.

Lakewood is the highest paying at $75,421.

So many people are leaving Jeffco for higher paying jobs, the sheriff is being forced to cut programs and reassign deputies, just to respond to calls.

Sgt. Dave Baldwin's traffic unit was disbanded.

"It was a punch in the gut," Baldwin said.

Baldwin's unit is no longer stepping-up speed enforcement on this dangerous stretch of Highway 93, where increased patrols dramatically reduced the accident rate in the last six months.

"I'm afraid that accidents that result on serious bodily injuries or fatalities are going to go up," Baldwin said.

Sixty four deputies have left Jeffco in the last two years for higher paying jobs, which amounts to 11-percent of the 560 deputies in the department.

"It hurts," Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink said. "It's demoralizing."

Mink says he was forced to eliminate units like traffic and crime prevention, just to have enough deputies on patrol.

Mink says his department receives around $90 million annually, roughly one-third of Jefferson County's budget.

Mink says $68 million goes to salaries and $22 million pays for everything from operating the jail to maintaining and operating the department's vehicle fleet.

Mink is asking for an additional $3.8 million, which would allow employees to receive their first raise in nearly five years and slow the deputy attrition rate.

Some of those deputies filed a lawsuit against Mink and the Jefferson County commissioners.

Deputies say they were promised overtime and pay raises but Jeffco never delivered.

"I think it's an act of frustration," Mink said. "I don't want it to sound like we're alone on this island, we're not. It's a countywide issue."

County Commissioner Don Rosier says Jeffco main's source of income, property tax revenue, is down 6 percent since 2011.

"We are in a very difficult time," Rosier said. "Unfortunately [we have] that balancing act of how to divvy those dollars up."

Rosier says every county department is losing employees to higher paying jobs, from the District Attorney to Human Services.

Turnover countywide is averaging almost 11 percent.

"It seems every day, somebody is leaving," Baldwin said.

Baldwin says it's painful to watch experienced deputies walk out the door.

"Other agencies are now hiring and everybody is giving better benefit and better pay than Jefferson County is," Baldwin said.

Mink says the safety of Jefferson County residents won't be compromised by this exodus of experienced deputies.

However, his department and others in the county will continue to struggle with this lack of money, and there's no quick solution.

Commissioners will begin budget discussions next month.

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