Longtime employees of the Dawson County Sheriff's Office are likely to get pay increases in the coming weeks.
Sheriff Billy Carlisle said transferring funds that were budgeted for new patrol cars would free up about $95,000 to give raises to his longtime and experienced officers.
"We put $133,000 in our capital improvement budget for 2015 in order to lease/purchase vehicles for the sheriff's office. To be honest ... that vehicle is not going to do me any good if I don't have anybody to drive it and it just sits in the parking lot, so I haven't bought them yet," he said Thursday.
Carlisle told county commissioners he wants to use the funds to give nearly 85 percent of his staff raises in an effort to combat against them going to other law enforcement agencies offering higher salaries and better benefits.
"That's what's happening right now. They're actually recruiting our employees, because they are already experienced and trained, and I'm losing them," he said.
He's lost 117 employees in the last seven years, with 96 of them resigning to take better paying jobs at other counties and city police departments.
At a rate of $8,000 at the minimum to train a new recruit before going on patrol, the sheriff's office has spent nearly $1 million since 2008 to train new employees.
"What I'm running into now is I have a lot of officers that don't have the experience they need," the sheriff said. "In fact, I have to go against my own policy in the detention center, promoting detention officers into supervisor positions that haven't been here long enough, that they don't have the experience or training, yet I had nobody else to put in those positions."
Carlisle's office is short 39 positions, including 10 slots that are frozen by the county, according to an evaluation by the Georgia Sheriff's Association.
"I can't even fill those positions if you gave them to me, because we can't compete with the surrounding counties and the salaries they're paying and the benefits," he said. "I'm 39 positions short now, and then with the new development that is coming in down at 400, I'm going to be further behind the ball ... so I've got to do something now to keep the experienced and trained employees I've got."
According to Carlisle, the proposed increases fall in line with a recent salary study commissioned by the county, though his officers would still fall in between the suggested minimum and mid-grade.
The study prepared by The Archer Company, a consulting firm specializing in human resource management, compared salaries to those of governments in neighboring Forsyth, Hall, Lumpkin and Pickens counties, as well as the nearby cities of Canton, Cumming, Dahlonega, Ellijay, Gainesville and Jasper.
A breakdown of the salary study showed that employees in the sheriff's office were among several departments requiring greater increases to reach minimums.
In response, a 2 percent cost-of-living increase was given across the board to all full and part time county employees. There were also funds set aside to give select employees for performance.
Mike Berg, county commission chair, said he respects Carlisle's decision to seek the increases.
"We did the study last year and we looked at the sheriff's request, and we thought that the salaries were in line. But he's having to compete with bigger counties and that's always difficult," he said. "He's in a bind because he's training people that then leave him and he's left with new recruits that he has to retrain that also could leave him."
Berg also said now might be the time to utilize those funds to reward those county employees that go above and beyond.
"We still have $110,000 that we put in the budget for performance from the budget last year. We'll probably start working on that right after this, so you may see across the board increases," he said.