Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt said when talking about the need to raise law enforcement employee salaries, he doesn’t play politics.
“I simply do my job and lead 261 employees to the best of my ability,” Hunt said. “And part of my job is, if I think we’re not competitive and we’ve got a turnover issue which effects service, my job is to fix the issue. That’s what I’m doing.”
Last month, Hunt started the conversation with County Council and County staff about raising employee salaries across the board by 20 percent, or $10,000 – his excluded – by creating a millage specific to law enforcement. Yesterday, he continued the conversation by posting a status on the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.
“We are putting this on our website to inform the citizens of this county of the option that council has to generate revenue in order to fund adjustments at the Sheriff’s Office,” Hunt wrote.
“After consulting with the Budget Control Board, this is the option council has.”
Hunt said that, according to the State Budget Control Board, Council has the option to look back three years, or four counting this year, and total the unraised millage rate caps during that period of time. A millage rate is a property tax based on property value.
If Council voted to combine three to four years of the state’s millage cap – 1.4 mills – that total could generate about 5 mills. The Sheriff’s Office proposed only 4 mills.
“The whole thing, the law enforcement millage to adjust these salaries is to be competitive,” Hunt said. “It’s still a viable option and it’s still on the table ... I’ve always gotten along with Council, we have a good Council. They’ve been very good to me and the Sheriff’s Office and I want folks to understand that.”
Hunt told Council in April that the Sheriff’s Office has a 38 percent turnover rate. Today, the Sheriff’s Office is short 18 employees in the jail, six on the road and there’s rumors of more resignations coming, Hunt wrote in the Facebook post.
In six hours, the post generated 64 likes, 61 shares and almost 50 comments. Most comments supported Hunt’s request for residents to contact Council members; others were not so agreeable.
Robert Franklin wrote, “You are not short personnel because of salary issues. Let’s not play politics. The jail has never been fully staffed for more than a week or two at a time. It is commonly short of staff. It is unrealistic and completely political to add that statistic to this budget issue. It only goes to show how the sheriff’s office twists facts to meet their desires.”
Hunt said it’s not about politics, it’s about making salary adjustments to become competitive, attract good employees and retain them.
Councilman Andrew Siders said he has received a few emails and calls from residents on the issue, and not one rings negative.
“I will say on the record, I’m going to do everything I can to help the Sheriff, everything possible,” Siders said. “I want to help him and all the County employees’ salaries.”
Maayan Schechter is the local government reporter with Aiken Standard. An Atlanta native, she has a mass communications-journalism degree with the University of North Carolina Asheville. Follow her on Twitter @MaayanSchechter.