County manager recommends public safety pay increase

Published 9:00 am Friday, June 30, 2023

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On Thursday, the Troup County Board of Commissioners held a special called meeting to discuss public safety officer retention.

The commissioners discussed a request from Sheriff James Woodruff to increase deputy salaries to be competitive with other law enforcement agencies.

Woodruff requested that deputy salaries be increased from $44,138.64 to $50,138.64 — a $6,000 increase — during the commissioners meeting on the evening of June 20. At the same time, the LaGrange City Council was voting to approve its FY2024 budget, which included $8,000 raises for LPD officers, making their starting salary $60,000. Woodruff also asked for a $4,500 increase for jailers to $38,067.12.

In the request totaling $586,533.35, Woodruff suggested giving back four deputy positions that the commissioners previously approved because he cannot find anyone to fill them. The department is currently down 22 deputies and 18 jailers.

Commission Chairman Patrick Crews acknowledged that deputy salaries have been an issue for quite some time, noting that the former Troup County Correctional Institute had been closed primarily to fund employee pay increases. He said the county would love to increase salaries at the sheriff’s office, but they have to find the money to do it.

“I don’t think there’s a soul in here that doesn’t want to support the first responders in our community, and that’s a good thing. I want to live in a safe community. I’ve got my family here. They’re all here. I want to live in a safe environment. There’s no doubt about that, but what’s always funny is when you ask how much or what should we cut, everything is kind of crickets.” Crews said.

Crews said that he has heard many people saying funding for The Thread should be cut. While it’s true that many county residents don’t use The Thread, its funding does not come from the county. It comes from the City of LaGrange’s portion of SPLOST funds, which LaGrange citizens overwhelmingly supported.

Crews explained that they did use a portion of the countywide SPLOST funds to expand the law enforcement camera system throughout the county at the recommendation of Woodruff and former LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar. Still, he noted SPLOST funds cannot be used to pay wages or salaries.

About three years ago, a group of commissioners went to state legislators in Atlanta and met with them to ask if they could create a SPLOST that could be used for law enforcement.

“We wanted to know if we could reduce the millage rate and reduce the burden on the taxpayers by putting in a SPLOST so that sales tax money could be used for first responders,” Crews said.

The idea was that it could pay for equipment and salaries for first responders.

“Our legislators would not support the idea,” Crews said, noting the commissioners were told legislators were not going to support what they called “the largest tax increase in the state of Georgia history.”

County Manager Eric Mosley said the county has a history of providing merit raises up to around 3 percent for most years going back two decades.

When the commissioners decided to close the Correctional Institute in 2017, there was a substantial increase of about 8% across the board, Mosely said.

Troup County employees saw raises each of the last five years, he said. According to Mosley, employees received a 3% mid-year raise in 2018, and cost of living raises of 4% in 2019, 3% in 2020, 2.5% in 2021 and 2.5% in 2022.

When commissioners suggested closing work release as an option to pay for the salary increase, Woodruff pushed back saying doing so might cost the county more money. The sheriff said the county will have to house the inmates regardless. Allowing them to participate in work release provides the county with $165 a week per inmate in fees. It also reduces medical costs because they can pay for their own medical care.

Woodruff said moving them back to the regular jail would also put it at capacity.

Ultimately, Mosley said he and his staff have evaluated the request over the last nine days and think it is viable. He also noted they do not want to raise the millage rate, which the commissioners echoed.

Mosley also told Woodruff he didn’t have to give up the four positions.

“As an unincorporated citizen myself, I don’t want to give those up. I think it’s important to have more depth to the road. I would love to find a way where you and I can work together to keep those positions on the road and fill those positions. I think it’s important,” Mosley said.

“I think public safety and quality of life are two of the biggest things why people continue to move to Troup County. I think those are the things we’ve got to continue to have the absolute best possible,” Mosley said.

Mosley’s recommendation to the board is to support the sheriff’s request and to provide an increase for all certified deputies up to $6,000 for starting salaries and those currently in roles.

The increase would include the marshal’s office and equates to about a 13.43% increase for certified deputies.

“I also would like to include in that our 911 dispatchers as well as our firefighters. I just think it’s important that if we’re going to tackle public safety, we have to tackle public safety. Because again, each one of these people plays a role in public safety in our community. And without them, it’s just not possible and I just can’t support a public safety increase that doesn’t include everybody.”

Mosley said he would also support the sheriff’s request for $4,500 raises for jailers, which would be about an 11.67% increase. All other administrative staff will receive the same cost of living increase in the projected budget, which they are still looking at.

“I would ask the board is to allow me to work with the sheriff and the other department heads over the next three weeks up until July 11, so we can talk about, discuss and hopefully vote on a public safety retention plan,” he asked.

Mosley said the money for the plan will likely come from monies saved over the years and cuts to potentially all departments.

“It’s not easy finding a couple of million dollars overnight,” Mosley said, noting he and staff have already worked many hours on the request.