More than 40 years of experience left the Newton County Sheriff’s Office this past month with the departure of four employees, but the trend has been going on for the past year now, said Sheriff Ezell Brown, with the NCSO losing 39 employees during the span.
“In their exit interviews, it was overwhelmingly cited as low wages, lack of raises and a lack of supplemental retirement being the main reason for leaving,” Brown said.
The NCSO’s loss of 39 employees since July 1, 2012 is roughly 16 percent of the staff. Most recently, it lost two deputies, one of whom also served as a public information officer, as well as a lieutenant and a captain.
Two of the most recent exits had master’s degrees, and a third was working on his.
“When we look at the total number of those employees, they had accumulated some 12,000 hours of training between them,” said Brown. “I think when we break it down into costs, its well over $250,000 that we’ve lost as a result of losing those employees.”
Brown said that NCSO employees have not had a raise in more than six years and have had unpaid holidays forced on them. Any overtime is not paid, but can be used as comp time; there are no educational incentives (pay-wise) and no sustainable retirement system for the employees.
The Newton County Board of Commissioners gave back five unpaid days this year, and will potentially do the same for the next two fiscal years.
For the 2013-14 fiscal year, Brown requested $10,801,389 for law enforcement and $11,053,109 for the jail. In the consensus budget that the BOC is expected to approve in July, $9,161,114 is earmarked for law enforcement and $9,248,115 for the jail.
The current budget included $8,850,738 for law enforcement and $9,091,315 for correctional administration, so the projected increases are small compared to the initial requests.
BOC Chairman Keith Ellis said earlier this month that as they finalize the county budget, commissioners are working with “a terrible shortfall. We’re responsible for delivering services and doing them well. We’re all concerned about employees and service delivery and also trying to run the county in a businesslike manner, which at least a few of us campaigned (specifically) to do, and doing that in difficult economic times is a challenge.”
“I understand, and all of us at the sheriff’s office understand the budget crisis and the economic downturn,” Brown said this week. “However, we cannot continue to lose good officers at the rate we are today. It presents us with a challenge to provide the level of service that we have committed ourselves to, and the promise I made to the citizens of this county.
“Even when we go out to academies with our recruitment packages, when most of them see our benefit package, they go elsewhere,” said Brown. “Not only does it affect the sheriff’s office, I think when we look at the totality of the loss within the years, I think it should put the BOC on notice that we cannot continue to follow this path that we have over the last 12 months.”
According to Brown, all of the employees leaving are highly qualified, and while it’s an honor to have other agencies search them out, Newton County needs to retain at least some of them in order to continue to do the best possible job.
“We’re acting as a training camp for other agencies,’’ he said.
There are approximately 240 employees at the NCSO, down about 20 since 2009.
Brown said he advocates for his employees and that every time he is before the BOC he emphasizes the need for improved benefits and salaries for his employees, many of whom he realizes are looking elsewhere for employment.
“I cannot say that everybody’s looking, but I can say that we have a large number that are,” he said. “Times are hard for these employees.”
The sheriff said there are officers within the NCSO that he will use to fill the most recently vacated positions, but it will take roughly $100,000 to invest in them in order to “get the caliber officers we deserve and we expect to deliver the services that we deliver here in this county… We’re spending the money, but are we spending it wisely?”