By SCOTT PESZNECKER
Calaveras County Sheriff's Department deputies have been eying the green grass across the Mokelumne River for more than two years.
Now, some in Tuolumne County law enforcement are looking east over New Melones.
Two weeks ago, Calaveras County supervisors approved a new agreement with the county's Deputy Sheriffs Association that set deputies' wages and benefits for the next three years.
The agreement, which gives three 5-percent raises over two years, will bring the compensation of Calaveras County deputies at least to the level of their counterparts in neighboring rural areas namely Amador County.
Calaveras County Sheriff Dennis Downum said the increased benefits should provide enough incentive to lure and keep quality cops.
"We were bleeding down here so badly from people leaving," Downum said.
However, in response to the new agreement, at least one Tuolumne County deputy has already applied for an open deputy position in Calaveras County, said Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department Investigator Ken Diaz.
Diaz, president of the Tuolumne County Deputy Sheriff's Association, said he isn't sure how many more deputies will consider leaving Tuolumne County for better pay.
Calaveras County deputies will get their first 5 percent raise Aug. 1. The next two will happen July 1, 2004, and July 1, 2005.
Meanwhile, Tuolumne County's wages are set through 2005, when the county's Deputy Sheriffs Association agreement expires.
On top of that, the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department might have to cut three patrol deputies and two jail guards this year because of the budget crisis, Diaz said.
"I don't know what it will do," Diaz said, when asked how his department's budget cuts and the Calaveras County raises might affect the morale of this coworkers.
When all is said and done, Calaveras County deputies will earn between $18.27 and $25.07 per hour, depending upon experience.
Deputy sheriffs in Amador County earn between $18.11 and $22.01 per hour. In Tuolumne County, deputies earn between $16.43 and $22.16 per hour.