County Commission passes wage increases for Sheriff’s Department
Published 1:36 pm Tuesday, November 22, 2022
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By Danielle Morin
The Carter County Commission Board on Monday received a standing ovation for its unanimous vote on approving Sheriff Mike Fraley and the Budget Commission’s proposal for salary increases within the Sheriff’s Office.
The Budget Commission presented the proposal on Monday to the Carter County Commission, after a couple months of debate over the topic. The proposal was presented in two motions — one to increase the salaries of patrol officers by $5/hour and a second to increase the salaries of all other Sheriff’s Office staff by $5/hour. Both motions were passed with a unanimous vote.
The salary increases have been a hot topic for Carter County’s Budget Commission since Fraley’s election in September. The committee met in October and earlier this month to decide how much of a raise would be issued and how those raises would be funded if the motion was approved.
But the Budget Commissioners were not the only ones in attendance pushing for the change. Many Carter County residents attended the meeting to voice their support of the proposal, including Sheriff’s Department officers and their families.
Don Hlavaty was first to address the commission, saying, “I urge you, vote yes for a wage increase for Sheriff Fraley and the Sheriff’s Department. It is imperative to the safety of our community.”
Jennifer Lucas supported the sheriff and his persistence in the matter, saying, “It is very disheartening that our sheriff has to fight time and time again to try to pay his deputies a livable wage,” further adding, “They run the risk of dying for you and every person in this county for $13.80 or $13.47 an hour — that’s shameful.”
Chris Little was another resident among those that voiced their support, warning commissioners, “If we don’t give these police officers a living wage, you’re basically defunding the police.”
While community members urged the commission, another resident, Tracy Holliday, pulled at their heartstrings. Holliday greeted the board, saying, “I come to you not only as a Carter County resident, but also as a victim.” What Holliday was referring to was the night of June 10 when she was held at gunpoint in her own home. Holliday said even though her house is only five miles from the sheriff’s office, it took 20 minutes for a deputy to arrive. “That twenty minutes seemed like a lifetime,” Holliday said, recounting the events of that evening.
Carter County Mayor Patty Woodby also took a moment to voice her support of Fraley’s proposal and commended the Budget Committee for the “hard work and research” they had put into finalizing the details of the motion. “We all live and work and play in this community,” said Woodby, “and we have to make it a better place.”
Before voting took place, Fraley reminded the board that failure to increase wages and consequently retain employees would cause a federal decertification of the jail, resulting in a massive expense to the county.
Throughout discussions on the topic, the biggest area for debate lied in how the county would provide funding for increased salaries. The most popular suggestions were those of increasing property taxes or implementing a wheel tax. Many commissioners felt that a wheel tax was fairer, citing that a property tax places the burden only on property owners, not on those residents who rent. During his public statement, Little disagreed with this notion, explaining that when property taxes are raised on landlords, they will in turn raise rent, distributing the burden among tenants. He also warned the commission on what he felt were the dangers of implementing a wheel tax. That is, once a wheel tax is implemented, it is forever, and can be raised to any amount at any time by the commissioners, in a danger he called, “a slippery slope.”
Almost all the residents in attendance who gave public comments stated their approval in increased taxes to fund the program, with Lucas expressing, “I’m OK with paying more taxes if it means my family and community will be better protected.”
While discussion of funding did take place, the approved motions did not contain any funding criteria. Budget Commission Chair Aaron Frazier explained that that decision would be made by the Budget Commission later, in the upcoming budget cycle.
Ginger Holdren, chairman of the Carter County Board of Commissioners, put the meeting into recess following the approval to allow for celebration among those officers in attendance who approached commissioners, thanking them for the action taken.
Chief Deputy Jeff Gazzo was pleased with the results, saying, “I’m glad they [passed] that,” and adding that he firmly believes the wage changes will encourage more officers to stay with the Sheriff’s Office — an issue the department has faced in the past.
Fraley said he was “shocked” at the unanimity of the voting but is very happy with the outcome. “It shows when you work together, great things can happen, and it’s a good feeling,” said Fraley, who sees a bright future for the Sheriff’s Office.
Fraley says he is now focusing on, “building for the future,” explaining the next step is to fill the 18 roles they currently have open at the jail. And he is hopeful the task will be an easy one now that the Sheriff’s Office can offer competitive wages, promising, “Great things are going to happen.”
If all goes according to plan, the new wages will begin on the pay cycle starting November 25, meaning employees would see a significant increase on their Dec. 9 paychecks. The increase will create a base pay of $18.60 for Sheriff’s Office employees.