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Pay hike for Bertie deputies

WINDSOR – The Bertie County Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to offer a significant increase to the starting salaries of certified Deputy Sheriffs.

The decision was reached at a special meeting here last week, and came on the heels of concerns expressed by Bertie Sheriff John Holley at an earlier meeting that his department is short-staffed and that the low starting salary for deputies was making it increasingly difficult to fill the vacant positions.

It was at the Commissioners regular meeting on April 1 where Holley addressed the board regarding staffing for courthouse security, and the lack of competitive salaries for deputy sheriff positions. At that meeting, the Commissioners directed County Administration to develop a range of options for the board to review.

Currently, Sheriff Holley explained that the start-up of courthouse security operations will be delayed due to the inability to hire staff for the positions for this unit. Twelve of the 35 sworn deputy positions are currently vacant, and applications are few and far between due to the lack of competitive salaries, Holley said. The current hiring rate is $34,442 for a certified deputy sheriff in Bertie County.

Holley explained that recruiting certified officers is very difficult with the current level of starting pay, especially as compared with salaries offered by Vidant hospitals, which pay a part-time officer $27.50 per hour.

In preparation for the special meeting on April 16, County Administration prepared three alternatives for consideration: raising the base salary for deputy sheriff positions to $38,000–$39,000–$40,000.

Bertie Finance Director William Roberson addressed the three options for providing an increase in deputy base salaries. He explained making adjustments to salaries on the pay scale, including adjustment to prevent salary compression for existing staff, the proposal to increase deputy salaries would result in a $120,000 increase to the upcoming budget, if all positions are occupied during the fiscal year.

Board Chairman John Trent asked Roberson if the $120,000 increase would be for the upcoming budget cycle as well. Roberson stated that the county would have to budget all the deputy positions at the new rate, and worst case (if there are no vacancies), the board is looking at roughly a $300,000 increase to the upcoming budget.

Commissioner Ron Wesson asked if the materials presented took in consideration the balance of this year’s and next year’s budgets. Roberson stated the materials presented would look at the effects of salary adjustments over a 12-month period. He shared and compared current budget adjustments of all Sheriff’s Office employees, including benefits, to the budget adjustments with the new pay rate. County Manager Scott Sauer shared that the budget’s “worst case scenario is with all the positions being filled”. Sauer also noted that if the board approved the measure at their April 16 meeting, it would take several months to fill five of the vacancies.

Trent clarified to his board colleagues that in order for the county to cover the rest of April, May, and June, it will cost $30,000. Roberson added that the board has $160,000 left in lapsed salaries, which can go back in to the General Fund. Trent also clarified that the $120,000 is needed for FY 2019-2020 in salary increases for new hires and existing staff. Roberson shared his most conservative estimate that the Board will need $320,000 for the upcoming budget if all vacancies were filled for the entire fiscal year.

Roberson stated that he had reached out to other counties to inquire about their deputy pay scale and that other counties are interested in what Bertie County is doing.

Commissioner Ernestine Bazemore inquired if the county could afford the new pay adjustments. Commissioner Greg Atkins asked about freezing a couple of positions. Trent shared his concerns about external factors (Medicaid reimbursements and property tax revaluation) that could affect the upcoming budget and a possible tax increase.

Atkins expressed his opinion that eliminating positions might need to be a possibility to pay for quality professionals. Sauer suggested for the board to freeze four to five deputy positions. Sheriff Holley expressed his opinion that taking away the $2,500 signing bonus would work if the board approves of a $40,000 adjusted salary.

Bazemore stated that $40,000 would work and that hopefully the Sheriff could hire someone with grant-writing skills. Similarly, Atkins said that a base salary of $40,000 would be “big in this area.”

Trent suggested to freeze five positions, increase deputy salaries to $40,000, take away the $2,500 signing bonus, and to increase positions in June. Roberson stated that the board could absorb the new adjustments, but there will be a steep jump in the FY20-21 budget. He expressed that the new salary would be competitive compared to the surrounding counties.

Roberson also discussed adjustments to Telecommunication positions with the board. Sauer recommended the board adjust the Telecommunicator Supervisor’s salary to be above the new rate for a starting deputy’s position.

Wesson offered a motion, effective with the next pay period (May, 2019), that the base pay for a certified Deputy Sheriff’s position will be $40,000 and the staff are instructed to follow the worksheet (including reclassifications as necessary) prepared by the Finance Officer to address compression impacts for designated current staff as calculated by Roberson.

Also, Commissioner Wesson included in his motion to eliminate the $2,500 sign-on bonus, and the requirement that five (of the existing vacant Deputy Sheriff positions be frozen indefinitely.

Furthermore, the motion included adjustments as discussed on the Telecommunications worksheet, increasing the base pay for certified Telecommunicators to $28,069 and reclassifications as presented, discussed and modified to also include the Telecommunications Supervisor.

Trent offered a second to the motion that passed by a unanimous vote.