A pay raise for Hall County Sheriff’s Office deputies is set for almost-certain approval on Thursday.
After remarks from Sheriff Gerald Couch, the Hall County Board of Commissioners slotted the pay increases into the commission’s consent agenda — a package of items that are voted on as a whole and routinely approved by the commission.
Deputies up to the rank of captain would receive raises of 2.5 percent if the package is approved. The package also includes a dollar-per-hour raise for certified officers working the night shift — a proposal that has been discussed since the 1980s, Couch said.
The raises would cost $377,000 in additional payroll for the five months remaining in the fiscal year. If approved, they would take effect Feb. 18, according to Couch, who said increasing pay is “just a start” to solving the office’s vacancy problem.
And if the raises are kept on the books beginning fiscal year 2019, it would cost the county an additional $755,000 each year, according to Hall County Administrator Jock Connell.
Sheriff’s office employees received a 2.5 percent cost of living increase in October. The additional cash for payroll would bring the total pay raise this fiscal year to 5 percent for most employees.
In proposing the raises for his deputies, Couch told the commission that the Hall County Sheriff’s Office was becoming a training center for other law enforcement departments.
He said deputies would be hired with the county as jailers, and once they became certified law enforcement officers they would find a better-compensated job.
“A lot of agencies will start cherry-picking those officers and taking them to their agencies — better pay, better benefits, better insurance, better retirement packages than we currently offer,” Couch said. “Essentially we became a training ground for a lot of other agencies — and we do that quite well — but I want to keep people.”
The 2.5 percent pay increase would start deputies at just under $40,000, according to Couch. He said the county was “fairly competitive” with the new raises, especially for those working the night shift.
In 2017, the county saw a spike in certified, veteran officers leaving the Sheriff’s Office, Couch said.
“Can you imagine how much effort and time and energy we put into a five-year veteran and the experience we lose when they leave our agency?” Couch asked.
Couch, county administration and elected officials have all said the competitive job market in both the private and public sectors has pinched the sheriff’s office, leading total vacancies to jump to more than 50 positions in the office.
The sheriff said the vacancies were putting county residents at risk and that the department “absolutely must” be able to hire qualified employees. Last week, Hall County Commissioner Scott Gibbs said he supported the pay increases, noting that he has to “allow my sheriff the ability to do his job. If I don’t, I’m handcuffing him.”
And for Couch, getting the job done means more than a flat pay increase.
“This is just a start, but it’s a continuing process,” Couch said. “We need to look more at our benefit packages and our insurance and retirement match. I plan going into fiscal year 2019 to do just that — working with county administration to examine that and come to different proposals for this board to consider.”
Gibbs said the commission would work with Couch on his other requests as the county builds its 2019 budget, which will be approved in June.
Commissioners will vote on the pay raises at 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Hall County Government Center.
Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville