Sheriff asks commissioners for overtime money, pay equity for deputies
Williams: "We have people who feel that they are devalued."
Clarke County Sheriff John Q. Williams was in front of ACC commissioners on Thursday night to make his case for more funding for the beleaguered Sheriff's Office.
Morale in the sheriff's office has been dismal for a long time - long before a current GBI investigation into whether jail staff smuggled illegal substances into the facility and while sheriff.
Williams didn't address that issue at a budget meeting on Thursday, but he had plenty to say about his department's staffing woes.
"We have, with our staffing numbers, a consistent need for mandatory overtime," Williams told commissioners. "We requested an increase in the allotted overtime budget. That was entirely denied."
That request was for over $800,000 in additional funding just for overtime in a department that is currently understaffed by 54 positions.
"The total amount budgeted or allocated for overtime in fiscal year '22 is $362,824," Williams said. "That places us, the Sheriff's Office, over budget by $1,059,437.23."
The mandatory overtime is eroding morale in the Sheriff's Office, but Williams says that another issue is possibly worse - a big difference in pay for sheriff's deputies compared to officers in the Athens Clarke County Police Department
"We have people who feel that they are devalued, that the Police Department is the big brother, and we're the little brothers," Williams said. "And quite frankly, they feel like they're getting kicked in the nads."
A look at open job positions on the county website shows an opening for a deputy sheriff with a listed salary of $39,700 per year, while a vacancy for a police officer lists the salary of $47,377.00 per year. Both jobs also offer a hiring bonus.
But the difference in pay for deputies compared to ACCPD officers is driven by the difference in the duties of those two positions.
Several years ago, public safety officials, including the fire chief, police chief, then-Sheriff Ira Edwards, and the head of the county's Corrections Department, asked Commissioners to change the way public safety employees were paid. Commissioners agreed, and under the new plan starting salaries are determined by comparison to similar positions in other counties.
Clarke County sheriff's deputies, however, don't perform the same functions as a sheriff's deputy in most nearby counties. Deputies in other counties are often seen performing patrols, making arrests and doing other visible police work. In Athens-Clarke County, the ACCPD performs those functions, while sheriff's deputies primarily provide staffing for the jail and security for the courthouse.
As a result, the salaries for sheriff's deputies are calculated in comparison to different positions like jailers, which usually offer lower salaries.
Still District 6 Commissioner Jesse Houle, a sometimes vocal critic of the jail, seemed to be receptive to Williams' concerns.
"I want to significantly, dramatically reduce the number of people that we're holding in jail," Houle said. "But I think the only way to make that bad situation worse is to underfund the jail and put everybody in an even worse situation. I'm hesitant to increase overtime because it sounds like the issue here really is recruitment, so the the issue that you're raising up that does make sense to me is that entry level position; that we need to create some kind of parity between our police department and the sheriff's office, so that you all can recruit as effectively as our police department can."
District 9's Ovita Thornton agreed, but warned that even more effective recruiting wouldn't solve the problem overnight.
"The problem is making sure we get bodies in there instead of overtime, but we know that might take a minute," she said.
Commissioners will continue debating and tweaking the proposed budget for a few more weeks in advance of a final vote anticipated on June 7th.