Interest is growing in Aiken to boost the starting salaries of public safety officers in order to remain competitive, but talks might have to wait a bit longer before the Aiken City Council is ready to take official action.
Though the Aiken Department of Public Safety’s budget and salary proposal are on the agenda for today’s council meeting, the rescheduling of a work session Thursday might lead members to seek more time before making a decision, Councilman Philip Merry said.
“My guess is that we will vote to continue talks since we had to postpone the work session,” he said.
According to documents on the city’s Web site, the department lags behind the North Augusta Department of Public Safety in starting salaries by more than $6,000 – North Augusta pays officers $41,735 while Aiken pays $35,443.20.
Though the pay is better than the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office, which has a starting salary of $31,717, public safety officers in North Augusta and Aiken are also trained to respond to fires.
Aiken Department of Public Safety Director Charles Barranco said creating a more competitive starting salary is imperative, noting that since January 2012, 12 officers have received pay increases from other agencies to leave the department.
“Because of the value of the service that we provide, this will definitely be a shot in the arm,” he said.
The current proposal calls for a flat rate increase of $2,850 for all sworn public safety personnel. That, along with a proposed 2 percent cost of living increase for all city employees, would bring the new starting salary to $39,002.06.
To achieve that number, however, the council would have to approve increasing the millage, something Councilman Reggie Ebner said the council isn’t ready to talk about just yet in the wake of the resignation of City Manager Richard L. Pearce.
“There will be some discussion on the topic, but the change in city management has set some things back,” he said.
The Aiken County Sheriff’s Office is proposing a similar bump for its deputies, according to a post on its Facebook page.
As of May 29, the department is short 18 deputies at the Aiken County Detention Center and six deputies on the road, the post said. On Tuesday, the Aiken County Council will hold a public hearing with Sheriff Michael Hunt on the proposal.
“We have got to become competitive to attract and retain these employees or, in the future, (we) may have to cut service, which, in my opinion, is flirting with disaster and (is) not an option,” Hunt said.