As the number-crunching gets heated during the city’s 2018 budget discussions, the largest department, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, is seeking more money for raises in hopes of filling empty positions and holding on to experienced officers.
And the department increasingly finds itself at a competitive disadvantage when compared to some neighboring law enforcement agencies.
City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson presented a proposal last week to cut vacant positions, 14 from the sheriff’s office. Chief Deputy Patrick Clayton said Jackson’s proposed budget would also take nearly $1 million out of the department’s operating budget.
For months, Sheriff Richard Roundtree has worked to convince Augusta commissioners and the public that he would be able to fill nearly 89 open positions if he could pay officers more.
Not only is the job of policing more difficult in Augusta as opposed to the surrounding mostly rural or bedroom community settings, officers make less, Clayton said. And what really hurts is that the department can’t give officers pay increases based on experience. Officers could get increases for education if that provision had been funded, Clayton said.
In Augusta, an untrained new hire for the jail starts at $32,098 a year. He gets a bump to $33,457 annually after completing jailer school. After earning certification, a deputy makes $34,884. The only experience-based raise is after two years when the salary increases to $37,630.
In Columbia County, a new hire is paid $29,426, and a certified officer makes $39,443, said Maj. Steve Morris.
The Aiken County Sheriff’s Office pays even more. A new, untrained hire is paid $38,026. With certification and an associate’s degree, an officer makes $39,839, and an officer with a bachelor’s degree earns $41,651 a year. The starting salary in North Augusta, where officers must also serve as first-responders, is between $42,000 and $43,000, Lt. Tim Thornton said.
At the Burke County Sheriff’s Office, where several Augusta officers defected after Alfonzo Williams became sheriff last year, an untrained hire makes $29,899 annually, and a certified officer makes $33,967, said Chief Deputy Lewis Blanchard, one of the Augusta officers who jumped to the Burke County Sheriff’s Office.
The other counties do something that Richmond County Sheriff’s Office would also like to do – pay officers more for experience and education. Morris said Columbia County pays an extra $1,200 annually for an associate’s degree, $1,800 for a bachelor’s and $2,400 for a master’s .
Columbia County also has a master level jailer and master level deputy, so as to increase pay for more experienced officers who are not interested in supervisory positions, Morris said.
This summer, the Columbia County Commission also authorized 5 percent pay increases for certified officers. Staffing level at the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office is at 97 percent, Morris said. In Richmond County, there are 89 open positions for the department authorized for 750 positions, a staffing level of about 88 percent.
Clayton cautioned, however, that 20 jailer positions were left open to pay officers for the full amount of time they work. Officers in Columbia and Burke counties, for example, are paid based on 2,236 hours worked each years. Richmond County officers work the same amount of hours but have only been paid for 2,080 hours, Clayton said. They use the money from the jailer positions to equalize the officers’ pay in Richmond County.
Jackson’s proposed budget does pay the officers the full amount for 2,236 hours, but to do so she stripped $900,000 from the sheriff’s operating budget, Clayton said.
In recent years the sheriff’s office lost a contract to police public housing complexes. Clayton said the public housing department lost funding and cut its contract with the sheriff’s office. It paid for 12 officers in 2012.
The sheriff’s office also decided not to apply for a state grant from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety that had paid for three traffic positions. The H.E.A.T. grant was a depreciating grant, paying less over the years, and at the anticipated $30,000 level this year it didn’t seem worth applying for, especially considering those officers were expected to assist in other areas of the state, Clayton said.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.