Ga. public safety officials see immediate impact from salary increases

After weeks during which multiple detention deputies left their positions, none have turned in notices this week, the sheriff's office said


Alan Mauldin
The Albany Herald, Ga.

ALBANY, Ga. — A few days and a few dollars apparently have made a huge difference in employee morale and the ability of local public service agencies to retain employees.

Although the Dougherty County Commission just approved pay increases for police, sheriff's office and ambulance personnel on Monday, Emergency Medical Services Director Sam Allen said he has already seen a difference.

"We're seeing people who were potentially leaving who are thinking they're going to stay," said Dougherty County EMS Director Sam Allen, about a salary increase for EMS providers. (Dougherty County EMS)

In one instance, a paramedic who had given his notice is now reconsidering.

"He was leaving to go do something outside EMS," Allen said. "When I talked to him yesterday and told him what his pay would be, he said, 'Let me think about it.' I could see his ears perk up.

"That's an experienced paramedic that's going to stay with us, or hopefully is going to stay with us. We're seeing people who were potentially leaving who are thinking they're going to stay."

The package approved by commissioners will boost the starting pay for a paramedic from $15.52 to $18.74 an hour, and also increase compensation for veteran employees, Allen said.

"We're recruiting people now," he said. "The board was absolutely outstanding in what they did."

The pay increases are expected to add about $3.2 million to the county's budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2022. The first year of the pay increases, and perhaps the second, will be funded through $8 million in federal money the county received through the American Rescue Plan Act. After that time, a tax increase could be necessary to sustain the extra pay.

[READ: Police departments use COVID funds to fight crime at Biden’s urging]

While it is too soon to tell whether there has been an impact on recruitment, the Dougherty County Sheriff's Office already has seen the drain in talent plugged.

After weeks during which multiple detention officers left their positions, at times on a pace of one a day, none has turned in notices this week, sheriff's Col. Jon Ostrander, who oversees jail operations, said. The sheriff's office jobs announcement was changed on Tuesday to reflect the new salaries, and Ostrander said he plans to give it about a week to check on whether the number of applications picks up.

"I've had one employee that was leaving, and had actually just left, and is now back," Ostrander said. "I had about nine that said they were going to be tendering their resignations, and now they're not. I think we're in a good position."

Prior to the move by commissioners, the sheriff's office was looking at the possibility of housing inmates at other facilities around the state due to the shortage of jail staff. That would have cost an estimated $1.8 million for the fiscal year.

There are other costs that can't be measured, Ostrander said, including the cost of training officers who move on to other jobs within a short period of time. About a quarter of the 190 jail positions were vacant at the time the sheriff's office requested the pay increases.

"To invest in an employee to that level and then have them leave, it's just an inefficient use of funds," he said. "I'm grateful to the County Commission for their willingness to do what was necessary to make these salaries more competitive. I can see an increase in morale in our staff."

(c)2021 The Albany Herald, Ga.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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