Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree is pushing for across-the-board pay increases for his department that would likely require a tax hike next year, city officials said Tuesday.
Roundtree pitched his budget request at an Augusta Commission meeting as city officials begin the 2018 budgeting process. He told commissioners the need is greater in the Sheriff’s Office than other city departments because starting salaries for his deputies are among the region’s lowest while call volume is highest.
“How many other agencies have one of these hanging in their lobby,” or have to plan and train for funerals, Roundtree said, pointing commissioners to memorial images of officers killed in the line of duty. “How many agencies in this government garner this type of community support?”
Roundtree said the office had obtained national accreditation and reduced crime since he took office. He said violent crime was down by 36 percent and property crime down 43 percent since he took office in 2012.
The sheriff offered two alternatives for the pay hikes – the first costs $2.8 million and gives all 655 certified and sworn deputies 10 percent raises. The increase would bring a starting deputy salary to $40,292 from the current $34,629 and put it just behind a North Augusta Public Safety starting officer salary of $42,153, he said. North Augusta officers double as fire and emergency medical personnel, he noted.
Richmond County deputies start their careers at the lowest salaries among officers in Columbia, Aiken and Burke counties and North Augusta, Roundtree said. He added that Augusta’s sole police agency handles a much larger call volume – some 372,342 calls for service last year – than the other neighboring sheriff’s offices.
The second option costs $2.7 million and would give most of the 535 certified personnel an 8 percent raise. It would bring the starting deputy salary to $39,500, with an increase to $44,600 after two years’ work. Corporals and sergeants would receive 7 percent increases. Captains and higher would get five percent.
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle mentioned that city officials are completing a comprehensive study of all city salaries, which would require funds to implement, but said he is “not opposed” to the sheriff’s request. Guilfoyle asked City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson for a source of funds.
“I’m not sure how you do it without a tax increase,” Jackson said.
Mayor Pro Tem Mary Davis said the salary statistics “really hit home” in light of the hard work the office does. “I don’t know where we’ll end up,” she said, “but we’ll take it seriously and see where we can go with it.”
Commissioner Bill Fennoy asked Roundtree if the Sheriff’s Ooffice would grow community support for a tax increase. Roundtree said he was “more than happy to openly ask the public for their support.”
Augusta millage rates are subject to a decades-old cap that has only about three-quarters of a mill, currently about $5 million, before it reaches the cap, officials said.
Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.