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Aiken County sheriff gets support in plea for salary increases

Aiken County ordinance passes second reading

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 10:29 PM
Last updated Wednesday, June 11, 2014 12:09 AM
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AIKEN ­— Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt stood before the Aiken County Council on Tuesday with a proposal to raise the starting salaries of his deputies, seemingly with the support of the entire county backing him.

Aiken County Council Chairman Ronnie Young looks on as Sheriff Michael Hunt addresses the audience at Tuesday's public hearing at the Aiken County Government Center.   TRAVIS HIGHFIELD/STAFF
TRAVIS HIGHFIELD/STAFF
Aiken County Council Chairman Ronnie Young looks on as Sheriff Michael Hunt addresses the audience at Tuesday's public hearing at the Aiken County Government Center.

Residents and uniformed deputies jammed into council chambers at the new Aiken County Government Center on University Parkway, taking part in a public hearing on an ordinance to adopt the county’s operating budget for the 2015 fiscal year.

Hunt requested a millage increase of four mils, which would generate enough revenue to raise salaries while allowing the department to fund its own performance evaluations for the first time in more than five years and create a career-path program for deputies, he said.

The proposal follows concern that Aiken County Sheriff’s Office salaries aren’t as competitive as their counterparts. Currently, the starting salary sits at $31,717, which lags behind sheriff’s offices in both Richmond and Columbia counties.

Hunt had little convincing to do Tuesday, as every speaker – resident and council member alike – threw support behind a salary increase, and as the ordinance easily passed second reading.

“What would you pay to have a trained officer to come to your home and help you in a time of emergency?” said Councilwoman LaWana McKenzie. “I don’t think anyone could put a price on it.”

Shelly Sheppard Fulmer, of Aiken, said she is in favor of increasing taxes if it means greater safety. Fulmer’s husband, Sgt. Jason Sheppard, was struck and killed by an SUV in 2006 while directing traffic.

“The amount of money they get paid doesn’t compare to them putting their life on the line on a daily basis,” she said. “I will pay taxes to be safe in this county.”

Hunt isn’t alone in his concern over salaries, as officials in Richmond County say they share the same concerns.

Currently, Georgia P.O.S.T.-certified officers receive a starting salary of $31,880.94 at the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, according to its Web site. The salary increases to $33,349.68 annually after one year and $34,592 after two.

Having lost about 225 deputies in the past three years, according to Chief Deputy Pat Clayton, boosting starting salaries is an issue that remains in the forefront of budget negotiations. The department hasn’t increased salaries in more than five years, he said.

“It’s not just a matter of low pay,” he added. “When you don’t receive a salary increase in five years, it makes you feel like you’re not valued.”

At last count, Clayton said, the sheriff’s office had more than 50 positions open for deputy sheriffs, deputy jailers and records personnel. While many deputies leave to pursue jobs that might boost their careers, he said, receiving higher pay is often brought up in exit interviews.

“It’s a constant battle,” Clayton said. “We’re working with (human resources) to fill the positions as fast as we can.”

Thanks to a salary boost in January, deputies in Columbia County enjoy a better starting salary than those in Richmond and Aiken counties. Sheriff’s Capt. Donna Dunham said deputies now earn $15.24 an hour and $34,076.64 annually.

Once officers complete a probationary period, they receive a five-percent increase, she said.

In the meantime, Capt. Steve Smith said the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t discussed increasing salaries again.

“Certainly in the future, but as of right now there have been no negotiations,” he said.

As for Aiken County, Hunt said there will be at least two more budget work sessions before council will have third and final reading of the ordinance.

He said he isn’t too concerned with how the council will vote.

“I think we have some good support from the citizens and that was very evident tonight,” he said. “And I believe council listened to the citizens. They’ve got some hard decisions to make.”

A COMPARISON

Annual starting salaries for deputy sheriffs by county:

Aiken County $31,717

Columbia County $34,076.64

Richmond County $31,880.94

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willie Lee
413
Points
willie Lee 06/11/14 - 07:49 am
0
0
The ACSD employe's were there
Unpublished

The ACSD employe's were there showing their support to give them selves a raise. I fail to see where this indicates community support. If Aiken County wishes to get rid of the incompetance now there and hire people with the ability to run the office then I would support the increase also; but not to just hand out money to what we have now.

csraguy
2166
Points
csraguy 06/11/14 - 11:32 am
2
0
Pay for Deputies

The entire CSRA has low law enforcement salaries that need to be properly addressed as agencies continue to have high turnover costing them more in the long run that had they paid them properly to begin with. Good to see Sheriff Hunt standing up for his men and women and doing what is right. Sheriff Roundtree has also requested raises twice but they were denied. CCSO, is paid the best with raises for training, college, tenure and other benefits not offered elsewhere such as paying the deputies college tuition.

As for the salaries listed on the RCSO website according to the article - double check your facts - most certified deputies with more that 6 years of service at the RCSO don't even make $34,500.00.

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