Budget committee tasked with sheriff’s department pay raise issue

Published 9:06 pm Thursday, January 20, 2022

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It wasn’t the answer the Carter County Sheriff’s officers and their families might have wanted to hear but it wasn’t a denial either.
A motion to provide a 10% across-the-board pay raise and supplemental bonuses for certified jailers was pulled from consideration during Tuesday’s Carter County Commission meeting, a move that disappointed many officers attending the meeting.
Budget committee chairman Austin Jaynes said Wednesday his decision to pull the motion was due to a concern “the motion was going to fail.”
“We have been doing this enough that you can about read the room and know which way it was going,” Jaynes said. “I was under the impression that it would not pass because it lacked the information that it needed.
“Once we get the proper information, we can get a resolution together that will make everyone happy.”
The issue may require a couple of special called meetings prior to the February budget committee meeting to find that solution according to Jaynes.
The request would have provided an $800 supplement to the 26 jailers who maintained TCI certification plus 10% across the board to help with recruitment and retention in the department.
The biggest pieces of missing information were the total cost of the supplement and raise, including impacts on salaries, wages, benefits and retirement funds, and the source of funds to cover the increased expenses.
District 3 Commissioner Bradley Johnson, who serves as the Financial Management chairman, estimated the cost during the commission meeting as “being in excess of $800,000.”
“We need to get a final number to what it’s going to cost,” said Jaynes. “That information was supposed to have been to us but it wasn’t. And I am sure there will be some more digging as far as pay criteria.”
Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford urged the commission to implement the pay increases, citing the challenges he faces in recruiting and retaining employees. Lunceford told commission members that at 40% to 50% staff levels, the department is facing a “crisis situation.”
“Part of my duties as sheriff is to make sure that the jail is protected which means that if I have to start pulling school SRO’s and patrolmen to do that I will — I don’t want to but I will,” said Lunceford.
Prior to the discussion, local residents and members of the department spoke in favor of the commission supporting the raise for the sheriff’s department.
Roan Mountain resident Robert Burleson told the commission that “living in Portland, Oregon, was a reminder for the need of law enforcement” and encouraged the raise to be supported. “The best come here to train and then go to other counties,” Burleson said. “We need you to vote for this and remember the men and women in our law enforcement.”
Resident Chris Little echoed Burleson’s sentiments about the low pay the sheriff’s department is receiving.
“This is pitiful to hear. It’s pretty bad that McDonald’s pays employees $15 and Hobby Lobby $18 per hour. All we are doing is training them and they are going somewhere else. I wouldn’t do it in today’s environment,” said Little.
Marshall Estep took the podium on behalf of his fellow officers.
“Days off are a blessing but we bring home what you individually don’t want to think about,” Estep said. “We are the ones that need the community support. We are lucky to get four hours of sleep between shifts and everyone does what they can, but our voices only go so far.”
Jaynes added that the best thing he can recommend to the sheriff’s department is to hold on and hang on because a solution is being worked on. He added that while the raise would help it won’t solve the overall problem.
“The money will help retain the employees that we have but I don’t feel like it will be a solution for hiring new employees because there is a shortage across the entire country,” said Jaynes.

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