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Sheriff fights for deputy pay raises

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Sheriff fights for deputy pay raises

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Sills OKs returning nearly $400,000 surplus in exchange

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills seeks a commitment from county commissioners to pay deputy’s salaries, should he be able to fill the 10-man shortage. SHANNON SNEED/Staff

A request by Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills to get his deputies raises might have instead led to the crime fighter giving commissioners around $400,000 to help refill county coffers.

Like so many departments across the state, the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office is in a critical situation from a manpower standpoint.

A viable workforce is something economic developers are scrambling to provide employers across the nation, and one of the industries most hit by the crisis is law enforcement.

“People have to understand that we have got to start compen sating these officers at a market wage,” Sills told commissioners at an Aug.10 budget work session

Negotiating to get more pay for his staff as well as incentives for new recruits, Sills agreed to a plan that would provide a higher compensation for sworn officers in exchange for the sheriff’s surplus money being returned to the county’s general fund.

For several years the county has budgeted for the 14 gun-carrying positions needed to adequately provide for that department. However, a state and nationwide workforce shortage has prevented the sheriff from filling those slots.

That left nearly $400,000 in the sheriff’s surplus fund that was slated to finance those salaries. Instead of tying up that unused money, County Manager Paul Van Haute proposed funding only four deputies at a $33,300 entrance salary and 6-month $1,500 longevity supplement, not to exceed $3,000 per year, and put the surplus fund into the general fund to help the county’s millage rate.

“If you add their built-in overtime, that’s another $2,800, so they are at about $38,000 for an annual salary for a deputy coming in,” Van Haute said.

After recent negotiations with the city of Eatonton regarding service delivery between the two governments, county commissioners created a special service district for the unincorporated area and in turn had to create a separate fund specifically for that area. That left the general fund to cover the entire county, including the city.

Van Haute explained that since those changes, county officials were working to “get the numbers a little tighter on both sides of the equation.”

“We know there’s 3/10 or 4/10 of a mil sitting there every year,” said Van Haute. “And, however you want to look at it, that ties up our hands from a budgeting perspective when after all the stuff we’ve gone through with the SDS we needed to get a tighter number.”

Sills said the plan wasn’t what he asked for, but it would be a great help.

“The only thing I want to say about Paul’s plan is the increase in wages is directed only for the sworn officers,” Sills said. “We will still be significantly below what the state pays.”

Sills said he was at the work session to get a commitment from commissioners to compensate for any salaries over the four budgeted positions, should he fill them.

“Paul told me he has a commitment that y’all would amend the budget and finance those positions if I am able to fill them next year,” Sills said.

Chairman Dr. Steve Hersey argued he would prefer to go ahead and put funding for some of the positions in the budget so that commissioners would not be presenting a budget to the public that is not their intent.

“I would just much prefer if we fund your office at a level that is more reasonable rather than make any kind of commitment to amend the budget to fund it some later date,” Hersey told the Sheriff.

After much discussion from the board and before leaving the work session to rush over to a court hearing, Sills was given the commitment from commissioners he was looking for.

“Should we be able to hire 14 positions, then that’s a good problem to have,” District 4 Commissioner Trevor Addison said. “If the incentive program doesn’t work this year, then we will try something different next year and we will move forward, but I truly do not like the term that we are putting together a dishonest budget when the same board members have voted for the prior same logic for years.”