AIKEN -- The Aiken County Veterans Affairs Office lost its bid for a pay raise at Tuesday's county council meeting, despite an audience of more than 30 veterans and supporters.
Robin Starks, the county Veterans Affair Officer, has been trying to get a salary raise of $4,100 for herself and $5,953 in benefits and salary adjustments for her veterans' benefits counselor.
District 8 Councilman Willar Hightower and District 2 Councilwoman Susan Giddings voted for the raises. The other council members, except District 3 Councilwoman LaWana McKenzie, who was not present, voted against.
Mr. Hightower asked the council to reconsider its vote, instead of worrying about the precedent it may set by giving a raise to an employee who didn't get one when the budget was written. The other county department heads have gotten raises, and Ms. Starks has earned a master's degree, which is usually accompanied by a raise, he said.
"There is not one shred of evidence that the Veterans Affairs Office should be treated any differently than anyone else," he said. The audience gave him a standing ovation.
Council Chairman Ronnie Young did not allow further comment on the matter, saying doing so would violate council procedure.
The audience of veterans then left, one of them saying, "Remember their names and vote them out" on his way out the door.
Ms. Starks sought the raise, claiming it's unfair because all the other departments heads appointed by the Aiken County legislative delegation got raises and she didn't. County Administrator Bill Shepherd has claimed that the raises were given to make the other departmental salaries competitive with their counterparts statewide and that Ms. Starks already is paid above the average.
In other business, the council gave first reading to an ordinance that would allow the county to sell $12 million in bonds to pay for the new detention center. Since two additional readings are required, the earliest the county could sell them would be September.
The current detention center is 35 years old and was designed to hold 117 inmates. The jail's average monthly population in 1997 was 201 inmates.
The new detention center has an estimated construction cost of $10 million. The other $2 million will pay architects' fees, construction management and other costs associated with training and transferring current jail staff to the new facility, Mr. Shepherd said.
The new jail will be prepared for at least 300 inmates when it opens, and have a total capacity of 500.
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