Upson County Sheriff Dan Kilgore defended a 15 percent salary increase request for department personnel to commissioners during a 2022 budget work session last week, re-emphasizing the need to remain competitive with neighboring counties.
Law enforcement salaries have been a recurring concern annually, with Kilgore and Thomaston Police Chief Mike Richardson expressing difficulty hiring and retaining qualified officers during respective county and city budget negotiations.
“My dilemma is that we are under where everyone else is able to start,” Kilgore told commissioners. “We’re not treading water where we are.”
Kilgore said Pike County’s starting salary is at $42,000, Griffin and Spalding County are around $47,000, and Fayette and Peachtree City are $50,000 to $51,000 per year. He is proposing $45,770 locally to “get us in that ballpark.”
“I’m having tremendous issues – especially at the jail – with attracting and retaining employees. On the law enforcement side, we’re just not getting applications,” Kilgore said. “I realize we’re 30 minutes from these folks, but what happens is they’ll have a take-home car to drive back and forth. And we’re in competition for personnel.
“The resource pool for law enforcement is significantly less than it’s been in the past years. There’s not as much interest in this career path,” he continued. “We also need to protect resources we’ve already invested in with training [and experience].”
An option discussed among county officials is to spread the 15 percent raise over the next two years.
Commission Chairman Norman Allen called Fayette County a “different environment” with a “larger tax base,” referencing a conversation he had with a Fayette commissioner indicating the nearby county is facing a millage increase to support higher salaries. He added that Upson personnel has seen increases the last two years.
“Two years ago, county employees had a 1.75 percent increase, and the sheriff’s office got five percent. Last year, it was about the same,” Allen said. “That’s 10 percent in the last two years, so [with the two-year plan] this would be 25 percent in four years.
“If we go this route, in all likelihood we’ll have this same conversation next year, the year after, and the year after,” Allen continued. “I want to do something that nobody else is doing – not just with the sheriff’s office, but across the board.”
Kilgore admitted the annual process is tedious.
“I’m frustrated because we can’t get ahead. We have to do this every year, and I don’t know the answer,” Kilgore stated. “My fear is if we don’t keep pace, we’ll be significantly hindered when it comes time to hire people and we’ll lose personnel to those willing to pay.”
Kilgore added that law enforcement also is competing with private businesses, which are increasing incentives to attract workers.
“The problem is across the board, and I’m afraid the dollar is not the be all, end all,” Allen responded. “It gets them in the door, but it’s not what keeps them happy when they come to work. We need to think outside the box.”
Allen pointed to the county’s benefits and retirement plan as incentives, along with a quality local school system for potential employees with children. Thinking “outside the box,” he floated the possibility of including housing as part of an incentive package for law enforcement.
“We’re not going to solve this today,” Allen concluded, “but we need to challenge ourselves [to be creative].”
Kilgore said a one-time bonus with CARES Act funds awarded to the county “would be a huge morale boost” for his employees.
Commissioners are considering a two-year plan which includes increases of eight percent the first year and seven percent the second year for jail staff, 10 percent the first year and five percent the second for patrol deputies, and five percent each year for captains. The raises could spark a millage increase for the county and for joint projects with the city, officials said.
A public hearing on the 2022 budget is scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30, in the city-county meeting room (Suite 110) at the East Lee Street government complex.