Have the salaries of certified deputies with the Macon County Sheriff's Office kept up with other law enforcement agencies in the region? According to Sheriff Robert Holland, they have not.
During budget negotiations over recent months, Holland had recommended pay increases for the deputies in his department in order to make them more competitive with other law enforcement agencies in the Towns of Franklin and Highlands, as well as in Jackson County. At their June 14 meeting, the Macon County Board of Commissioners agreed to a compromise, raising the salaries of deputies an additional two percent above the three percent cost of living increase approved for all county employees effective July 1.
The commissioners also agreed to undertake a study to review all county employee pay rates over the next six months and to determine what adjustments, if any, should be made to make county salaries more competitive in the region.
According to Holland, his deputies make anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000 less than officers with similar levels of training and experience at other agencies. The county saw at least three officers transfer out of the department in the last year, two moving to the Highlands Police Department and one to the Sylva Police Department.
In his recommendation to the commissioners, Holland proposed an average increase of 8.2 percent for all certified deputies, excluding both himself and his staff attorney. For individual officers, this would have meant a change in salary anywhere from 2.4 percent to 26 percent, or $1,000 to $8,000 a year, depending on years of service with the agency, responsibilities and the amount of education, training and specialized certifications. The proposal would have cost the county more than $200,000 a year with benefits.
In Macon County, the salary of an entry-level deputy sheriff with basic law enforcement training but no experience and no specialized certifications is currently set at $28,500. Holland has recommended that the starting salary be increased to $30,500.
With two years experience, a deputy sheriff’s base salary starts at $29,500, while an investigator (Corporal) with at least three years patrol experience starts at $31,100, and an investigator (Sergeant) with more than ten years patrol experience starts at $34,300. Holland’s proposal for each of these levels was $32,500, $37,500 and $42, 641, respectively.
According to sheriff’s department attorney Brian Welch, in its proposal, the department sought a non-arbitrary method of determining appropriate pay scales for its deputies. Welch noted, however, that a direct comparison with other departments is complicated by the benefits that are offered and other factors. In addition, overtime pay, which Holland notes has been on the rise in his department in recent years, is not reflected in base salary and pay scale figures.
A survey of the Franklin, Highlands and Sylva police departments, and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, lends some credence to Holland’s claim that his department’s salaries are falling behind. Starting salaries at these agencies range from $28,500 (Franklin PD) to $29,245 (JCSO), a negligible difference.
On the other hand, the minimum salary for the chief deputy (Major) in Macon County is currently set at $38,500. By comparison, the minimum salary for Jackson County’s chief deputy stands currently at $45,369. Police captains in Franklin, Highlands and Sylva make, respectively, $50,000, $33,075, and $41,000.
“I think most salaries are all in the same ball park of one another,” said Lt. Danny Bates of the Franklin Police Department. “If you look at what Murphy pays its officers, sure we may make a little more, but it isn’t too far off.”
“I think most salaries are all in the same ball park of one another. If you look at what Murphy pays its officers, sure we may make a little more, but it isn’t too far off.” – Lt. Danny Bates, Franklin Police Department
But starting pay aside, Sylva Police Chief David Woodard contends that the real competition in salaries comes through pay scales and certifications. In addition, benefits can vary from department to department. Whether or not the agency provides life insurance, its healthcare coverage includes dependents, or its officers are issued take-home vehicles are all benefits that officers may consider.
Jackson County human resources director Patsy Lovedahl says that their sheriff’s officers receive “very similar” benefits to Macon County’s officers, including healthcare and take-home vehicles with no fee.
Macon County Manager Jack Horton noted that it is difficult to compare the rank structures between police and sheriff’s departments. He also noted that some degree of turn-over is to be expected in any agency, but that it is still important for government agencies to remain competitive in order to attract and retain talent.
“One of the good things that came out of the whole budget process is that we are going to start this classification pay scale study and complete it over the next six months to see what is the market rate for positions that we have and are we paying a fair and competitive wage for the services being delivered,” said Horton, who noted that the last time such a study was done in the county was in the late 1990s. “We need to look at all salaries, not just the Sheriff’s Office, but everybody, and this salary study will do that.”
Horton acknowledged, however, that once competitive salaries are determined through the objective study, the county may be forced to make adjustments gradually due to current revenue limitations in the budget. “We will have to come up with a plan to make that happen, but it may be hard to do it at one time,” he said.
Survey of law enforcement salaries at WNC agencies
Below is a survey of salaries at law enforcement agencies in the region. Where parentheses are used, it indicates the highest current salary paid for the position. No parentheses indicates minimum salary. Not all departments provided both.
Macon County Sheriff’s Office
Staff Attorney: ($62,400)
Jackson County Sheriff’s Office
Franklin Police Department
Patrol officer: $28,500 ($34,507)
Highlands Police Department
Patrol officer: $29,016
Sylva Police Department
Patrol officer: $28,900