Find the money somewhere

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Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength has asked the Augusta Commission for $2.5 million to fund badly needed pay increases for his dwindling ranks of officers.

You'd think the sheriff would be the last person in town to have money problems. After all, he recently won that $6.3 million settlement in the Ryan B. slander suit. Maybe he could peel off a couple of million from that!

Kidding aside, the sheriff faces a serious problem - and, in turn, it becomes the citizens' problem.

Strength has 49 vacancies in his department, caused in no small part by other law enforcement agencies luring his officers away for higher pay.

And here's an even bigger slap in the face: The Atlanta Police Department came to Augusta's Partridge Inn recently and set up shop recruiting, offering $42,000-a-year starting pay to any certified deputy.

It is shameful that the starting salary for a Richmond County certified deputy is only $28,525. In Aiken and Columbia counties, it's well over $30,000. In the city of Aiken, its Department of Public Safety pays its officers more than $8,000 more than an Augusta deputy.

On top of that, the Georgia State Patrol plans to increase its number of troopers from 800 to 1,200 in the next few years, and has increased pay by 30 percent. Take a wild guess where they're going to look for officers to fill those positions.

And Mayor Deke Copenhaver has cited correctly that once word gets around that a city is high-crime, business and industry are reluctant to locate there.

These men and women in law enforcement are some of the most important people in our society. They keep us safe. They take risks so we don't have to. And they do it for a pittance. If anything, police officers should be among the highest-paid professionals.

Taxpayers should pony up, and the Augusta Commission needs to find every penny the sheriff needs.

What about raises for other county workers? Well, not to be unsympathetic, but this is more of a crisis: Atlanta is coming here and trying to steal officers away. When meter readers start packing heat and responding to burglaries, armed robberies and shootings, then let's talk.

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