At the Aug. 19 meeting of the Dawson County Board of Commissioners, board members voted to approve pay raises for the county’s law enforcement, E911, EMT and public works employees.
In a presentation at the board’s Aug. 5 work session, Sheriff Jeff Johnson presented data to the board members, showing that the Dawson County law enforcement personnel are paid much lower than those of surrounding counties. Because of this, the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office had trouble finding and retaining its employees.
According to Johnson, having such a high turnover rate was a waste of the county’s money in training potential employees because new employees come in, go through the county’s training process and then leave to work in another county that pays a higher salary.
“We’re unable to adequately and capably recruit experienced personnel; that hurts us,” Johnson said. “What we do get sometimes they may or may not work out; oftentimes they wash up during the training process, during the background process, and that’s all very time-consuming for us; we’re having to spend a lot of time and money, so there’s a lot of issues there that go with it.”
During the Aug. 5 meeting, Johnson requested the board to consider giving pay raises of $3 an hour to his 104 officers, a number which also includes detention center personnel, school resource officers and courthouse officers, in hopes of making the DCSO positions more desirable and of hiring and retaining personnel who will stay.
“We’d like people to come in and retire from Dawson County,” Johnson said. “We wanna try to get folks to stay here at Dawson County to retire, cause that’s ultimately what we want; I think it just results in a better service to our community.”
Johnson said that, with a $3 an hour pay raise, certified law enforcement officers would be paid a little over $47,000 a year starting, which is still below the pay rates in neighboring Forsyth County, which he said pays its officers almost $51,000 a year starting pay.
According to Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond, it’s important for Dawson County to offer a more competitive salary to its law enforcement employees to be able to attract qualified personnel and to stop the existing personnel from leaving to go to other counties.
“[Johnson’s] goal as well as ours here on the board is to try to stop that from happening and provide him with a staff that is better for our citizens, a trained staff and some people that have been here long term is much better than him having to have somebody new every time you turn around,” Thurmond said.
Board members discussed and considered the pay raise proposal before returning Aug. 19 for a decision. Thurmond recommended that, in addition to approving the pay raises for the 104 law enforcement personnel as requested by Johnson, the board consider also giving $2 an hour pay raises to the county’s 14 E-911 operators.
“I know the sheriff made the request only for the 104 officers, but I’m going to propose to you a little bit different and add a few into it,” Thurmond said to the board on Aug. 19. “I think we have a need to fix as many problems as we can at the same time and I’m going to propose to you a method by which to do that as well.”
In addition to the law enforcement officers and E-911 officers, Thurmond suggested giving pay raises to the county’s firefighter EMT personnel. Earlier in the year, the county approved $2 an hour pay raises for its firefighter paramedics, but according to Thurmond the firefighter EMTs are now due for a raise too.
“When we did the firefighter paramedic we did not do anything for firefighter EMT,” Thurmond said. “I’m going to propose to you tonight that we do a $2 an hour increase for the firefighter EMT as well.”
Finally, Thurmond asked the board to consider giving pay raises to the county’s public works employees, who are also a part of the county’s frontline workers.
“One other department that we have trouble maintaining a staff and keeping going and is also a part of public safety is our public works department,” Thurmond said. “We have 17 people that are our on the street in our public works department, and I’m proposing that we give them a $2 an hour raise.”
Thurmond said that the money for all of the pay raises will be funded by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a stimulus package signed by Congress that provided counties with extra funding in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[ARPA] is almost $5.1 million that the county received,” Thurmond said. “We can use that money to pay for our law enforcement and our firefighters and our 911 officers to give them a pay raise that allows us the opportunity to keep those positions filled and allows us to have the opportunity to protect our citizens at the highest level.”
According to Thurmond, the ARPA funding will last through 2024, allowing the board to approve pay raises to all of the personnel he discussed and take time to see increases in revenue that will allow the raises to continue after the ARPA funding is used.
“With this ARPA funding that we’re dividing out over a three-year period plus the remainder of this year, that would… leave us about $390,811 that we can also do something with,” Thurmond said.
Board members voted unanimously to approve the pay raises for all the personnel Thurmond discussed, and raises will go into effect at the end of the next full pay period.
In the end, Thurmond said that it’s really all about helping Dawson County to become a more competitive employer and to help the county retain its employees.
“These raises that I am proposing to you does not make us the highest paid county of all the counties around us; it does make us competitive and it allows us the opportunity to keep the people that we have,” Thurmond said. “I’ve worked for this county my whole life, so I can tell you that being competitive is how you get employees — we wanna keep what we got, and that’ll allow us to maintain a stable workforce.”