With Dawson County's annual budget hearings approaching, Sheriff Billy Carlisle said he can no longer stand by and watch longtime employees leave for higher paying jobs with better benefits.
In an email last week to his staff, Carlisle announced he has hired an attorney and plans to fight the county commission for employee salary increases, despite the consequences the choice may bring.
"Sometimes an elected official has to stand up and do what's right and do what's right for the citizens of the county and do what's right for the employees of the county before he tries to do what's right for himself," he said. "I'm willing to accept whatever consequences follow."
As of Monday, Dawson County Commission Chair Mike Berg said the board had not received formal notification of the sheriff's intent.
"It has been suggested that salaries are an issue," Berg said. "In 2013, the board approved funds for a 2014 county government salary study and salary adjustments. That study, by a consultant, should be completed in the next few weeks."
He also noted that hiring an attorney could have cost implications.
"In the past, the board and sheriff have had a team approach and an open line of communication," Berg said. "At this time, the board will continue its normal budget process."
It's been more than six years since employees at the sheriff's office received a raise, an issue that according to Carlisle is detrimental to his department.
"My office is breaking down because they, our commission leaders, have not stepped up to the plate and taken care of what needs to be taken care of," he said.
"Basically, all they've done is put a fresh coat of paint on the outside and sold the county as being fine and everything is going great, groovy and good. But they've done nothing to maintain the working components of the county."
In the last several months, the sheriff said he has averaged one employee departure per week.
"They're telling me that they can no longer support their families working here," Carlisle said. "They say there's no future for them in Dawson County. They can go to counties to the south of us, make more money, have better benefits and less responsibility.
"They're not wanting to go, but I can't say I blame them, because we can't offer them anything to stay here."
As a result of the attrition, Carlisle said the level of service at the sheriff's office is suffering.
"That's my biggest concern. I can't provide the level of service that I'm required to provide to citizens of this county because I don't have the personnel to do it with," he said.
Carlisle added that he has approached the county commission about his concerns to no avail over the last several years.
"I've spoken with the commissioners, first back in March 2011, when they had a retreat at Amicalola Falls," he said. "I went to them then and brought the issues to them and said in our current budget situation, we cannot pay our bills if they keep cutting everything."
Carlisle said he retained attorney Steven Leibel to be present with him throughout the budget negotiations with the county that are scheduled to begin next month.
He is still trying to determine a projected funding total needed to overcome his department's salary issues.
"Internally, we're going over our budget and our needs that we will take to the county sometime in June," he said.
As for suggestions to fund the proposed salary increases, Carlisle said that falls to the county commission.
"My job is to tell the commissioners and show the commissioners what I need to adequately fund this department so that I can perform the job and my duties that I'm required by law to do. It's their job to figure out how to pay for it," he said.
"[The sheriff's office has] cut everything out that I could do away with, including combining positions to save money. We don't have anywhere else we can cut."