Augusta Commission to review 2018 budget proposal

Raises for the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office are taking center stage as the Augusta Commission gets a first look Tuesday at the 2018 budget developed by City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson and staff.

 

Several commissioners reported they heard a radio promotion several times over the last few days in which a spokesman describes the heavy workload and low salaries endured by sheriff’s deputies, followed by a demand that Jackson include the raises in the budget.

Commissioner Marion Williams said the radio spot admonishes “the administrator” to “do the right thing” by including the raises.

Roundtree pitched two plans for increasing his staff’s pay in August. One cost $2.8 million, gives all certified and sworn deputies 10 percent raises and increases a starting deputy’s salary from $34,629 to $40,292. A second option costs $2.7 million and gives most certified personnel eight percent raises, with a starting salary of $39,500.

At the time, Jackson said Augusta couldn’t afford to give the raises without raising taxes. Roundtree said he hoped to cover them without a tax increase, but added that any increase should be earmarked so the public knows it is going only to law enforcement.

More recently Jackson said based on a citywide compensation study – not the same one presented by Roundtree – she hoped to give staffers “at the lowest rung of the ladder” raises next year. The compensation study looked at all personnel, including law enforcement.

Commissioner Grady Smith was sympathetic to the sheriff’s plight.

“I know he’s pushing hard because he’s losing (deputies) to the surrounding counties,” Commissioner Grady Smith said.

With starting pay the lowest among area law enforcement agencies, part of Roundtree’s presentation noted that deputies get their training here then leave for higher salaries elsewhere. Several ranking officers have left the department for jobs with Burke County, the Richmond County Marshal’s Office and elsewhere.

“The sheriff would be better to say, ‘we’re coming close to the danger zone’ and lay it on the line,” Smith said.

Williams said the sheriff’s office ought to find areas to cut within its own budget, such as equipment. Under state law, “we do have to fund the sheriff, but we don’t have to fund the sheriff to the amount he wants to do those raises,” he said.

Commissioner Dennis Williams said approving a budget is a balancing act. His priority is “to make sure we have enough money” to operate. “Trying to keep everybody happy is the hard part,” Williams said.

Jackson’s spokesman Jim Beasley said Jackson and staff were still working on the budget Monday and would provide no information about it to anyone until the commission’s regular meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

“In deference to members of the commission, we will be providing the information to them first,” Beasley said.

Law enforcement spending for all Richmond County entities was almost $60 million or 39 percent of Augusta’s total general fund budget of $154 million this year. The general fund budget covers operations, including salaries, health benefits and other expenses in most local government offices, from the mayor’s office to Augusta Recreation and Parks.

The budget Jackson will present represents the general fund and all enterprise and special revenue funds, which totaled $788 million this year. The commission’s scheduled date to give the budget final approval is Nov. 21.

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

 

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