Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul told county commissioners in a letter Monday that the county’s “stagnant pay scale” has been a detriment to hiring and maintaining top-level employees. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul said Monday his office is nearing a breaking point with employee retention due to an inadequate pay scale and a prolonged absence of employee salary increases.
In a letter to the Dougherty County Commission, Sproul said that he’s lost 192 employees during his five years in office, including 38 over the last year and 12 already during the current calendar year, many of whom left for higher-paying jobs. Noting that more than one-third of all county employees are employees of the Dougherty Sheriff’s Office, Sproul said in the letter he remains concerned over the county’s “stagnant rate” of pay.
“We’ve been very good stewards of the taxpayers’ money since I’ve been sheriff,” Sproul said after giving his annual report to the commission at its work session. “That makes it even tougher for me to look into the faces of our employees knowing they’re struggling financially. You can only say ‘good job, good job’ for so long before it starts losing meaning.
“We’re simply not showing our employees that we value them.”
Sproul said in his letter that “for a deputy or detention officer who is married with three children, the starting wage in Dougherty County is below poverty level.”
The starting wage for DSO patrol officers and deputies is $26,413. That increases to $27,169 if the employee is POST-certified, according to County Administrator Richard Crowdis. Crowdis also said Monday that county employees last received a cost-of-living adjustment in Fiscal Year 2008, which began on July 1, 2007, and last received merit pay increases in Fiscal Year 2009, which started on July 1, 2008.
Sproul said in his letter to commissioners that the county pay situation has left him to face a number of critical issues, including the perceived fairness of a detention officer coming on board making the same pay as officers who have been working with the department for five years; the aging of the department due to its inability to attract young recruits, and the loss of employee confidence.
Sproul wrote in his letter, “Over the past seven years, the cost of living has increased by nearly 13 percent (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), but there have been no cost-of-living increases. Since 2008, health insurance premiums increased twice and employees have begun having to contribute 3 percent of their pay toward their retirement.
“Loyal employees who have stayed the course have lost their longevity pay. Deputies and officers have lost much of their uniform allowance. We say that our employees are our most valuable resource, but it’s growing more and more difficult for them to feel valued.”
Sproul said the average age of deputies working in his department is 47 years.
Dougherty County Jail Administrator Col. John Ostrander said after Monday’s commission meeting that the pay situation is growing increasingly bleak.
“I can understand when we lose an employee to the Albany Police Department because their folks are paid around $3 an hour more than ours,” Ostrander said. “And while Albany State University’s starting salary is around the same as ours, at least their employees can get a free education. But when we start losing employees to the Moultrie and Sylvester police departments — which we have — there’s a real problem here.”
District 1 Commissioner Lamar Hudgins, who chairs the County Commission’s Finance Committee, reminded Sproul of budget constraints during Monday’s meeting.
“Our budget is very tight,” Hudgins said.
“I understand that, as I indicated in my letter,” Sproul replied, but after the meeting he spoke further on the county budget. “When are budgets not tight?” he said. “At some point you have to find a way to show your employees that they are valued.
“We go into budget meetings this week, and you can believe that this will be one of the primary topics of conversation.”
Hudgins said after the meeting, “The only choice we have (in granting employee raises in FY 2014) is raising the millage rate. I hate to say that, but that’s just the facts.”
Sproul asked in his letter for commissioners to “consider raising the level of pay for Dougherty County employees to a level commensurate with the city of Albany.”