Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree spoke out Tuesday about new recommendations in a citywide compensation analysis that provides the department only $750,000 for pay increases next year.
The analysis compared salaries paid Augusta-Richmond County government workers with those in comparable area cities such as Athens and Columbus and found two-thirds of Augusta salary “benchmarks” – the minimum, mid-range and maximum salaries for each city job – were below average, some by as much as 30 percent.
While most of his department’s salary benchmarks were low in the study, Roundtree has pushed in recent months to both increase officers’ starting pay and grant across-the-board raises to keep them from going to neighboring counties. The plan’s price tag is more than $2 million annually.
“We’re losing deputies to agencies right here around Richmond County,” the sheriff said.
The discussion comes as the Augusta Commission attempts to finalize the 2018 budget developed by City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson. No one spoke at a Tuesday public hearing on the budget, and the commission did not approve $3.8 million in pay increases Jackson is recommending for Augusta’s lowest paid, who do include some in law enforcement but only a total of $750,000 for the sheriff’s office.
Roundtree, who recently ran a radio advertisement asking for pay increases, said despite his request, he’s been left out of the discussion on raises.“We’ve not had one conversation with anybody from this administration or this government about what we can do to raise the salaries of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office,” he said.
Recommendations in the analysis were for a first phase to target the lowest half of pay grades. The greatest share of funds would go to fire suppression, followed by Augusta Utilities, Engineering and the sheriff’s office while all workers will receive a 1.5 percent pay increase Jackson said will offset health insurance increases.
With revenues flat, Jackson has said there’s not enough money to give additional raises without a tax increase.
Mayor Hardie Davis suggested more meetings with the sheriff on the raises and commissioners are set to review the budget further at a work session next week.
In another item during Tuesday’s regular commission meeting, the commission agreed to new terms in a bond-funded apartment complex project but stopped short of signing off on the deal.
Columbia Ventures’ Foundry Place, a 221-unit apartment complex intended for a city-owned property near the Augusta University College of Dental Medicine, will now go for competitive bids to select a general contractor and be sold or refinanced within seven years, ending at that time Augusta’s liability for issuing up to $27 million in bonds.
Commissioner Bill Fennoy said the complex will “remove blight, remove contamination and increase the tax base” while enhancing downtown growth. Fennoy for a second regular meeting dropped to one knee and prayed during the pledge of allegiance, a gesture he said reflects injustice endured by black people.
Columbia founder Noel Khalil said bidding the project addresses concerns about construction costs being too high, while the company will now pay $6.6 million of development costs, placing more “skin in the game.”
“This blighted area will become a rose in your community,” Khalil said.
Commissioner Ben Hasan said costs still looked too high to him and questioned the preparation documents giving someone other than the mayor authority to approve them.
The commission voted 6-3 to review the updated documents prior to expected approval next week, with Hasan, Mayor Pro Tem Mary Davis and Commissioner Sean Frantom voting no. Commissioner Marion Williams was absent Tuesday.
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