With a request for raises and a possible tax increase on the table, Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree said he hopes existing funds can be identified to cover his proposed salary hike for the city’s law enforcement agency.
“The ideal is that we can find the money within an existing budget,” Roundtree said Thursday.
With government-wide budget talks ongoing, the sheriff made a public plea to the Augusta Commission this week to give his staff more money. City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson said the $2.7 million to $2.8 million Roundtree sought had no obvious source other than a property tax increase, and Roundtree told commissioners he would advocate one if need be.
“No one likes a tax hike, but I think if we exhausted all the means, and if I let the public know that this money will be used specifically for the Sheriff’s Office, I think people would be more reasonable, because they see exactly where it goes,” Roundtree said.
The request was met with enthusiasm. Sheriff’s Cpl. Jeffrey Burdick said he was happy to hear the sheriff address the issue.
“I’ve been with the department for a little over 14 years now,” he said. “So it really kind of benefits me on the retention side of it as far as the commitment that I have made.”
While most local government employees have seen few pay increases over the last decade, the Sheriff’s Office gave out adjustments that leveled pay disparities among similar personnel. This year all government employees received a small percentage increase.
Sheriff’s Maj. Steve Strickland, who was promoted from captain to major in 2014, said he supports pay increases.
“Historically how it works is that we go years and years without a raise,” he said. “And then something precipitates them giving us a raise and then you’ll go a long time without.”
Roundtree’s request will compete with other city budget requests as the commission finalizes budget details before giving the spending plan final approval before year’s end.
A tax increase, if needed and approved, would be set when the commission sets next year’s millage rate in August 2018.
Mayor Hardie Davis addressed Roundtree’s request in a statement released Friday.
“I fully support a pay raise for local law enforcement and am committed to appropriately compensating these brave men and women for their service to our community,” he said in the statement. “The citizens of Augusta expect the fiscally responsible use of existing taxpayer resources before asking for new money, and I will work with the Commission to ensure that we get this done. We will explore the budget and find ways to increase pay at the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office before considering any additional taxes or fees on our citizens.”
The sheriff’s request might be bolstered by an ongoing government-wide compensation study the commission authorized last year for $100,000. Results of that study being done by the Archer Group are expected to show ideal minimum, maximum and average salary levels for all positions in the government but have not been released.
In making a case for the raises, Roundtree said Richmond County deputies start their careers at the lowest salaries among officers in Columbia, Aiken and Burke counties as well as North Augusta, while handling a much larger call volume of some 372,342 for service last year, far more than neighboring agencies.
The Sheriff’s Office is the largest single division of Augusta government, with approximately 670 reporting to Roundtree as of May 23, when The Chronicle last obtained salary data.
The largest block of the sheriff’s workforce is road patrol deputies, who numbered 273, and Charles Webster Detention Center workers, most of whom are not certified, who numbered 206 in May.
The average salary for a road patrol deputy is $39,211 and 73 have been employed less than three years.
During his presentation at Tuesday’s commission meeting, Roundtree pitched two alternatives for the pay hike.
The first costs $2.8 million and gives all 655 certified and sworn deputies 10 percent raises bringing a starting deputy salary to $40,292 from the current $34,629. This increase will place the office just behind a North Augusta Public Safety starting officer salary of $42,153, he said.
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 seven percent increases and captains and higher would get five percent.
Roundtree said he thinks the commission, which controls the county purse strings, supports his request.
“From the general conversation and comments that they made from the commission chamber, I think all the commissioners are in favor of enhances,” he said. “I think the only question is ‘where would the money come from?’”
One area might be lapsed salaries. Roundtree said his department under spent its budget by $950,000 last year and has reduced operating costs this year.
“We don’t waste money within the Sheriff’s Office,” he said.
Staff writer Susan McCord contributed to this article
Reach Nefeteria Brewster at (706) 823-3486 or email@example.com.