Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith asked the Walker County Commission Monday to look into possibly paying more for deputies and jailers in the next fiscal year, as experienced staff is being recruited …
Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith asked the Walker County Commission Monday to look into possibly paying more for deputies and jailers in the next fiscal year, as experienced staff is being recruited away.
However, at least one commissioner said civil service rules for paying across the board may pose a problem for that.
During a monthly report to the commission, Smith said he wanted the commission to make the consideration for when Fiscal Year 2020 starts Oct. 1.
"Right now, our deputies make $13.66 an hour starting out," he said, noting that was probably a good wage about 10 years ago when surrounding departments were paying $11 an hour. Now, it is a different story.
"I'm losing experienced investigators and I'm losing experienced deputies for higher paying jobs. I can't blame those deputies for leaving," Smith said.
He noted he is losing two investigators who have been in the department 15 to 20 years. "They're leaving and they're making $17 an hour, if that, and they've been with us a long time," he said. "They're walking into a job where they are making $20 plus. I can't blame them for leaving."
Smith suggested the county has to set starting pay between $14 and $15 an hour to be competitive.
"Overall, I think it is something we may need to look at," Smith told commissioners. "I know that by bringing this to your attention now, every county employee is going to want a raise. I know you would give every employee a raise if you could, if you had the money and resources to do that."
However, he said deputies and jailers have a hazardous job, putting their lives on the line every day. "They deal with the worst Walker County has to offer," he said.
Smith said the commission is currently paying $60,000 for 10 leased Tahoe vehicles. In time, he wants to look at going to trade them in for Chevrolet trucks while the vehicles still have equity.
"I think we are about $8,000 to the good right now on that," he said. "I want to take that burden from my budget, and I can pay for those through my discretionary funds. That's about $5,000 a month and $60,000 a year we can allocate back from the commission side to the budget. We can take that $60,000 and maybe try to give our employees a raise.
"I want to look at maybe in October finding a way to maybe get competitive with our starting pay. We do provide a take home vehicle, which Jasper doesn't. This is an incentive that a lot of the other smaller departments provide as well."
He also repeated his earlier suggestion to put administrators on salary to help better manage overtime and spending.
Answering a question from District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis, Smith said he would prefer a new pay schedule than just a higher starting salary. "If you started the pay at $15, that's more than what some who have been with the department seven years make," he said, coming up with the starting range of $14 to $15.
Davis said he agreed with Smith, but the county's civil service rules.
"I'm afraid if we give one employee a raise it has to be equal across the board for 215 employees," he said, noting calculations exist for what a 50-cent increase would be in the General Fund budget. District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt said he recalled a 25-cent an hour raise would equal $125,000 a year for the county to pay.
Davis later elaborated that the across-the-board raise is a rule requirement with the Civil Service Board, confirming as his understanding later in the day that it has to be across the county.
Smith asked if jailers and deputies could be placed in another classification due to the hazards of their job. Davis said that would have to be raised with the Walker County Civil Service Board for their input, including how it would be structured.
"I agree that a deputy making $28,000 a year is not enough for the hazardous job they are out there doing," especially as other cities and counties are pay an average of $15 or $16 an hour and sometimes better insurance benefits.
"What we're facing, we've faced it for years, is that we send a deputy for training, The deputy gets trained and someone else offers him $2 more an hour. Of course, that deputy has to provide for his family," resulting in the loss of the trained deputy, Davis said.
Davis didn't know if a way was available to just substitute a new starting pay schedule versus a pay schedule also affecting current deputies, again worrying requirements for an across-the-board raise. The latter would result in hundreds of thousands of dollars, possibly even $500,000 or $1 million, he said, saying he could get Smith more firm figures.
Later in the meeting, he said under a "quick calculation," a $1 per hour raise per employee would roughly amount to $450,000 a year for the General Fund budget.
Smith said, "We've got to stop the bleeding to our own budget, but we also have to stop the bleeding of the revolving door." Smith said the department already has had four new deputies this year, and two more will be replaced in April.
Aderholt said under a request from the late Sheriff John Mark Tirey, after about 2000, the Sheriff's Office was moved underneath the direction of Civil Service Board.
"It could go the other way as well. That's just food for thought," he said. "I don't know if that would be feasible" or if anyone would be interested in doing that.
Chairman Jerry Bishop brought up the idea from other counties of getting new recruits to sign a contract they would remain as a deputy for a certain length of time if they are sent to school at the county's expense. Smith said he did not know the last time the Sheriff's Office sent someone for schooling, although such contracts usually say they have to stay two years or reimburse the county for the schooling cost.
District 3 Commissioner Ralph Williams, a former sheriff investigator, noted that deputies are working around the clock, and some are working on Christmas holidays, taking time off maybe a month after most people have opened presents and ate dinners. "I think that is a huge thing to consider, and to keep veteran people with you," he said.
The commission took no formal action on Smith's request.