High turnover rates within the Aiken Department of Public Safety is not something new, according to department Capt. Ron Shelley.

“I've been with Public Safety going on 37 years, and this is not the first time we've seen high turnover – it's the third,” Shelley said. “It started in the mid-'80s, when Wackenhut showed up on the doorstep, and then around 2000 when we lost many, many officers in the five- to six-year period. The difference now is, officers have left in a more compressed time frame ... but there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

During a Aiken City Council public work session on Monday night and per the request of Councilman Dick Dewar, Council's work session was expanded into a more thorough discussion about high turnover rates within Public Safety.

Members of Public Safety answered questions about the high turnover rates and spoke frankly about serving on the front lines, even in tragedy such as the losses of Master Public Safety Officer Scotty Richardson in December 2011 and Master Cpl. Sandy Rogers in January of 2012.

Chief Charles Barranco defended the department and said many officers who come to his department are concerned about their path forward, and the main thread in turnover is simply salary.

“We need to work extra hard to keep these people and make an investment in them,” Dewar said. “I would challenge you (Barranco) to make a special effort to keep the morale. I don't think we're doing our job because there is a compensation issue.”

Aiken Public Safety's turnover rate in 2012 and 2013 combined was 31.5 percent among “sworn” employees, a number based on figures provided by the City of Aiken to City Council. Of 89 “sworn” employees, in two years 10 employees retired, 15 left voluntarily, two were terminated and one died.

Fifteen of the voluntary leaves took jobs with other agencies, including North Augusta Department of Public Safety, security and criminal prosecution.

The City of Aiken's figures reflect that, even with turnover, 51 percent of Public Safety's sworn officers at the department have 10 or more years of experience.

City Manager Richard Pearce said those with North Augusta Public Safety earn about $43,000, while Aiken County Sheriff's deputies make about $32,000 and Aiken Public Safety officers start at about $35,800 – with an addition of a 10 percent increase for six months in service and academy certification.

Shift changes, equine fire rescue and grievance procedures were recurring questions throughout the night, but an issue Public Safety does not see is a lack of applications, Barranco said.

“We're not struggling to get those applications,” Barranco said. “To retain many to stay, I would suggest, again that salaries are a common thread. That will move us forward to help with retention.”

In other business, Council members received a thank you from the Historic Aiken Foundation for their support behind the preservation of the three historic wooden bridges located at York, Union and Fairfield streets.

Maayan Schechter is the city reporter with Aiken Standard.

An Atlanta native, she has a mass communications-journalism degree from the University of North Carolina Asheville. Follow her on Twitter @MaayanSchechter.