Country prepares to formalize pay plan

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A month ahead of budget time, Sheriff AJ Smith is pushing strongly for raises for the people in his department.

And now that the county commissioners have the results of a study they commissioned on pay rates and job classifications, it looks like sheriff’s office employees, as well as those who work for other county departments and the constitutional officers, should see a bump.

Not everyone will, though, since the mission of the study by consultant Evergreen Solutions, which cost the county about $28,000, was primarily to bring order to what has long been a comparatively wide open process when it came to setting job classifications and pay rates.

 “We didn’t have any formal plan in place, nor formally adopted job descriptions,” said Erin Griffith, the county’s fiscal manager. “We are trying to become more professional, with widely accepted job descriptions.”

The county has yet to learn exactly what effect the revised pay plan would have on specific positions, and that will likely be taken up at next week’s budget workshops.

But looking solely at pay issues, Evergreen did a comparison with Bay, Calhoun, Glades, Gulf, Lafayette, Liberty, Taylor Union and Wakulla counties,  as well as Chattahoochee and McIntosh counties in Georgia, Conecuh County, Alabama, and the cities of Apalachicola, Carrabelle, and Fort Walton Beach.

What they said was that if the changes were implemented over four years, it would cost the county an additional $321,000 in year one, $309,000 in year two, $310,000 in year three and $317,000 in year four.

The year one costs are higher, because it absorbs the costs of bringing all the positions up to minimum.

“This approach focuses on employees in the lower pay grades firs,” Evergreen report. “This approach brings the county to a market competitive position in year four of the implementation. The county would implement a new pay structure in year one, then spend the next three years moving to market.”

This four-year implementation would do away with what had been the typical practice of granting annual $1,000 across the board raises, which had added about $220,000 annually to payroll costs.

Because the sheriff’s office employs nearly half of the 174-person workforce of the county and its constitutional officers, the largest share of the roughly $300,000 annual payroll increases would likely go to that department’s budget.

Griffith said that 82 full-time and three part-time staffers work for the sheriff’s office, comprising 48 percent of the county government's workforce.

The county commission, through its roads, solid waste, emergency management, planning and other departments, employs 66 people, while the tax collector and property appraiser have eight employees each, and the supervisor of elections two full-time and one part-time employees.

The clerk of courts’ office has 17 employees, although some are funded entirely under the court budget.

With budget workshops opening next week, Smith is gearing up for a push for more funds outside of any pay increases, which like all the other departments won’t be factored in until the Evergreen study is adopted and implemented sometime before the end of August.

He is asking for $5.82 million, up about 5 percent from the current fiscal year’s $5.5 million.

So far Smith has hosted tours of the jail by Chairman Ricky Jones and Commissioners Bert Boldt and Jessica Ward, and no doubt he’ll make his pitch to Smokey Parrish and Noah Lockley before it’s time for them to approve his 2021-22 budget, which gets resolved sometime before the start of September.

“We’ve been working off the same budget for five years, with no significant raises,” he said. “We’re losing employees. If you want a high level of professionalism, it’s going to cost.”

Smith points to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s recently released annual Uniform Crime Report for 2020, which showed a roughly 7 percent drop in the crime rate. In addition, the Total Crime Index, which tracks murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft – dropped by about 10 percent.

“I’m proud of a 7 percent reduction in crime,” he said, noting a sharp decline in aggravated assaults, a small drop-off in larceny, and sharper increases in burglary and sexually related crimes, but neither showing a significant rise in those crimes.

“That goes to show how hard everybody’s been working,” he said. “That’s another reason they deserve a raise.”

Smith said a starting wage for deputies of $32,000 translates to less than $15 an hour. “You can make more than that at Burger King,” he said. “You want a professional who’s highly trained and knows what he or she is doing.”

He said the department is going through a process of accreditation, which requires departments to reach high standards if they are to achieve that. “They talk about accreditation, that is a version of police reform,” Smith said. “You’re having policies you have to abide by.”

Together with a push for more drug rehab options for users and addicts, Smith oversees a jail which houses more than before. “

"We’re running 90 people in the jail,” he said. “We’re doing a survey to look at the last 10 years, but we have had an increase in the inmate population. Everything has increased, calls for service have increased.

As part of Evergreen’s study, they spoke to employees throughout the workforce, and reported that most are happy with their jobs.

“The county’s employees expressed that the benefits package played a positive role in affecting morale. Employees stressed again and again that having a job with full benefits was very attractive and not easy to attain in the county,” read the report.

“Several employees described the quality of people they work with as the number one reason they’ve stayed with the organization. Many also cited having a wonderful relationship with their direct supervisor as a key reason for staying.”

The report said employees considered “the opportunity to live in a small-town beach environment like the one in Franklin County (to be) a big selling point for staying at their current job.

“With a few exceptions, employees expressed their satisfaction with the hours worked leading to a greater work life balance,” Evergreen wrote.

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