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Sheriff: 'The salary study is flawed'
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Longtime employees of the sheriffs department are being short-changed, Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle says. And not even the countys own study on salaries recognizes the need to reward them for long, dependable work.

The sheriff is protesting a proposed 2015 budget -- and the salary study, which focuses on raising county employees pay to a minimum.

Their own study shows were underpaid, and they want to bring everybody up to a minimum, Sheriff Billy Carlisle says. Well, minimum isnt going to do it not for this department or any other.

Carlisle is concerned that longtime employees of his department are not being recognized for their years of service.

Look at Randy Harkness for example, Carlisle says. Hes been here 14 years, seven months, but they give him credit for only five years. Or look at Stanley Elrod. Hes been a dispatcher for 11 years, five months. They only give him credit for 10 years. This is messed up.

The department is losing experienced deputies to nearby counties, the sheriff says.

Right now, I have one shift with five people, and they have a combined eight or nine years experience, Carlisle says. If your house got broken into, who do you want handling the case? Im not putting anybody down. They are working hard, but were losing years and years of experience. We need to pay our officers a decent salary to keep them here.

The salary study, recently released to department heads by County Manager Cindy Campbell, includes a minimum and a target salary range.

The concerns Sheriff Carlisle raises are centered around the target, Campbell wrote in an email. The target considers the years of services of the employee for their position. At this time, funding is not available to raise employees to the target.

Three department heads contacted for comment about the salary study were not permitted to talk about the issue, and instead referred a reporter back to the county manager.

Ive been instructed to refer you back to Cindy Campbell, David Headley, director of public works and community development, said. A fourth department head, David McKee, with planning and development, said the study is a step in the right direction.

Employees should be compensated for the tasks theyre doing, McKee said. Its based on years of experience in the current position. My understanding is this is a first step, to work in the direction of compensating employees fairly. It is not a fix-all. And it doesnt account for somebody like me whos been in this department 10 years, but in my current postion for five.

SALARY STUDY IS TYPICAL

Campbell and Commission Chair Mike Berg said the study, conducted by The Archer Company, based in South Carolina, is typical.

Billy is correct, Berg said. The study isnt meant to capture years of service. It is not out of the ordinary for the report to have been conducted this way.

Berg has said in the past he is in favor of pay-for-performance initiatives, and $120,000 has been set aside in the proposed budget for them.

I am not in favor of COLAs (cost-of-living-allowances) to recognize performance, but support COLAs for cost of living changes, he said. The salary study is a snapshot view for management purposes.

The salary study cost $24,500.

Carlisle and his attorney, Steve Leibel, expect to address the board of commissioners about the compensation issue at tomorrows final public hearing on the 2015 budget.

We think the salary study is flawed. The sheriff is not a lawsuit-driver person, Leibel says. But he is driven to make sure his department gets adequate funding for the benefit of Dawson Countys citizens.

Part of the problem, Leibel notes, is that the board doesnt understand the sheriffs role.

Wed like the commission to understand the role of the sheriff in setting his own salaries apart from what they normally do, he says. There are ways to utilize our own budgetary process, and use constitutional power to retain people and present a budget he (the sheriff) controls, rather than the commission.

Leibel points out that the sheriff is an independent officer of the county, not a department head.

The sheriff has been underfunded for many years, Leibel says. We are driving vehicles in violation of county policy; we dont have enough staff; we have problems retaining officers, and this presents a problem for citizens.

The proposed 2015 budget, however, includes money for leasing 11 new vehicles for the sheriffs departments.

If I dont have experienced people to drive those cars, what good are they? Carlisle asks.

Part of a proposal to the board of commissioners may include a request to use budget money for officers salaries and SPLOST 6 funds for vehicles.

My argument is, lets take care of employees with budget money, and take care of cars with SPLOST, Carlisle said. But they wont do that. They chose to put money in capital improvement to lease cars instead of waiting to use SPLOST.

Attorney Leibel says the sheriffs department is the economic driver for the county.

If people feel theres lawlessness here, no one would invest in Dawson County, he says. The sheriffs department is an economic asset, and Dawsons desirability is due in large part to excellent law enforcement.

This isnt about politics. Sheriff Carlisle isnt running for re-election. Hes truly looking out for the best interests of the sheriffs office. We have a compelling argument to modify Chairman Bergs proposal, and we want to act in a reasonable and good way for the citizens.

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