Jackson considers more salary for first responders
After multiple work sessions and a public hearing, Jackson County commissioners may designate an additional $444,000 in the 2021-22 budget for law enforcement and emergency response salaries.
Proposed changes to the initial recommended budget presented May 18 include $296,000 for pay increases in the sheriff’s department and jail as well as $148,000 to support the county’s two volunteer rescue squads. Commissioners are also considering $15,000 for the Jackson County Farmers Market. A $13,001 line item to buy a commercial mower for Southwestern Community College would be taken out after SCC decided the equipment was not needed.
The pay increases for law enforcement are in response to a request that Chief Deputy Matt Wike presented May 24. As of June 1, Wike said, there would be 10 vacancies in a department of 82 employees. In a two-year span, the department had lost 25 employees, mostly to higher-paying jobs.
“When we start having those numbers of vacancies, that’s when we start worrying that we’re not going to be able to provide these services the way it needs to be provided for this county,” he said. “We can’t just afford to continue to kick it down the road.”
Currently, sheriff’s employees are paid according to a different pay scale than the one used for other county employees. The plan Wike presented would place sheriff department and detention employees on the county pay plan, targeting the largest pay raises to the positions that most need an adjustment.
The plan would increase salaries for detention officers and sergeants by 6.81% and those of detectives and deputies by 12.16%. Lieutenant, captain, major and chief deputy positions would all see a 1.73% increase. The sheriff would not get a pay raise. Wike had presented a plan totaling $345,000 in salaries and benefits.
Wike told commissioners that funding the raises in the 2021-22 budget would be critically necessary to “stop the bleeding,” but that they should be prepared to spend more in the future.
“I do expect that if y’all do plan to go ahead in the final budget with the countywide salary study, you might see that there is still a gap, even if we were to do this plan,” he said. “But I think it will address the immediate needs that we see in the Sheriff’s Office to start turning the tide on our salaries.”
Adams’ proposed budget sets aside $1 million to implement the results of a planned salary study, and he suggested that commissioners fund sheriff’s and jail pay raises from that line item, should they choose to do so.
“I don’t think we have the option to decide whether we want to do it,” said Chairman Brian McMahan. “I think we have to do it.”
The rest of the board members seemed to agree with that assessment.
The sheriff’s office is also hoping to purchase an integrated officer camera system in the foreseeable future, but it has not yet made a formal funding request for that money and hopes to find outside monies that will not rely on the county’s taxpayer dollars.
Of the $148,000 recommended to go to the rescue squads, $35,000 would provide a $12 pay per call to volunteer members who show up for emergencies. The remaining funds would support one full-time position at each of the county’s two rescue squads, putting the county’s support of those squads in line with the support it provides the five volunteer fire departments that are not supported by a fire tax.
“There is a need to make sure that the rescue squads are made whole as well and that they’re at the same level and operations that we’re giving to the fire side,” McMahan said during a June 1 work session.
According to discussion during the June 1 session, rescue squad funding would come from a line item currently reserved to fulfill the county’s promise to help the Glenville-Cashiers Rescue Squad pay for a new building in Cashiers. The county has reserved that funding for three years, but ongoing litigation within the rescue squad has pushed back the construction timeline, so the money has not been spent. Once the rescue squad comes back with a formal funding request for construction, commissioners will have to find the money to honor their previous commitment. However, said Adams, the year-to-year debt payment could be less than previously calculated due to lower interest rates and more accumulated funds available to make a larger down payment.
During the June 1 budget hearing, eight people gave public comment, all representing local nonprofits and thanking commissioners for their financial support.
A final budget will be presented for adoption during commissioners’ next regular meeting, at 1 p.m. Tuesday, June 15. There will be a time for public comment at the beginning of the meeting, either in person at the Jackson County Justice & Administration Building or via Zoom. Call 828.631.2213 by noon June 15 to give comment by phone or video.