The Richmond County Sheriff's Office has been ready to give its officers more competitive pay packages since late last year. But until Augusta commissioners voted Thursday to approve a new salary structure for the department, public safety officials weren't sure it was going to happen.
The commission's vote, which was part of a motion to balance the city's 2002 budget, approved a new compensation schedule for the city's four main public safety departments: the sheriff's office, the fire department, the Richmond County Correctional Institute and the marshal's office.
The new pay scale is expected to bring officers' salaries in line with those in surrounding communities, including Columbia County, which hires new officers who have a bachelor's degree or four years' experience at a salary of $24,918. The new pay structure in Richmond County will have new deputies starting at $25,103.
As in Columbia County, the new pay scale will give officers a 0.5 percent raise after a year's probationary period. For Augusta officers, that increase will continue for the next four years and will be added to an annually determined citywide cost-of-living raise.
"These pay changes have made us competitive, and that was very important," Sheriff Ronnie Strength said.
Inequities in the pay system, including some sheriff's employees making more than some employees who had more tenure and experience, were realigned across the board.
All certified public safety officers - including marshals, jailers and firefighters - will see the benefits of the new pay plan by next month.
"It's going to do a world of good for the morale of the department," Deputy Fire Chief Mike Rogers said. "We're asking more and more of them. This is giving us the chance to reward them for what they're doing out there."
Other city employees will have to wait until August to see any change in their paychecks. The delay for nonpublic safety employees is expected to save the government about $500,000, which is being used to build up the city's contingency account - a reserve fund to be used in the event that some departments' expenditures exceed revenues.
Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.