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Pay raises coming for deputies
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Deputies’ salaries are on the rise, as the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office tries to stop an exodus of officers.

Effingham County commissioners approved raising the starting pay for sheriff’s deputies to $14.35 an hour from $12.40 an hour, hoping to make the department competitive with law enforcement agencies in surrounding counties.

The extra pay won’t affect the county’s bottom line, but it does mean the sheriff’s office won’t be able to fill 14 slots open currently. Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie and county human resources director Rushe Hudzinski-Sero recommended filling 10 of the 14 slots and using the money from the remaining positions to raise the starting salaries to $13.67.

She said the department has lost 28 people because of salaries since the start of 2007.

“We’d rather have 10 and lose four than not have 14 (spots),” she said.

A comparative study of starting salaries for law enforcement officers put Effingham near the bottom of 15 Coastal Empire agencies sampled.

“We’ve been working on this for eight months,” McDuffie said.

He’s also hopeful that the bump in pay will bring about a better selection of candidates.

“I’ve got tons of applications,” McDuffie said. “But they are not people I want working in Effingham County.”

The sheriff said he lost three more employees late last week. Hudzinski-Sero said half of those who have left the department said pay is a large part of their consideration.

“It’s what we’re taking home to our family with that paycheck,” she said of what departing employees tell her of their decision to leave.

Of the 40 sheriff’s office members who have left in the last year, 28 left because of pay, McDuffie said. Five pulled their applications, two left for medical reasons, two retired, three were terminated and five left the law enforcement field.

“You’ve got to stop the bleeding somewhere,” Commissioner Verna Phillips said. “The turnover rate is costly.”

Rick Gossett, who is running for sheriff, said the turnover rate in the department “has reached critical proportions.”

“It’s not just the number of people but the quality of the people you attract,” he said. “I totally support anything you do to attract good quality law enforcement personnel to Effingham County.”

The sheriff’s department has lost deputies to agencies in neighboring counties and McDuffie said he lost four sergeants to the Georgia Port Authority police. The port authority police was not part of the comparison. The Georgia State Patrol was and their pay was at the top of the list, followed by Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police, the Hinesville Police Department, the Liberty County Sheriff’s Department and Pooler.

“It’s always been that cities pay more than the sheriff’s departments,” McDuffie said. “Why that is, I don’t know. But if we can get competitive, it would give us a starting point. There’s only a handful of law enforcement officers out there, and you’ve got to compete with those folks.”

He also said allowing deputies to take cars home at night is one of the drawing cards he has. Commissioner Hubert Sapp reiterated his displeasure at some deputies who live out of the county taking their sheriff’s department cars home at night.

“I feel the salaries should be raised and maybe raised more than what they are,” Sapp said. “But on the same token, I don’t feel these vehicles need to be leaving the county.”

McDuffie also warned that raising the salaries to the current level helps for now. But Rincon and Springfield also are expected to improve salaries for their officers, he said.

“We’re not increasing our budget, and we’re getting competitive. Are we going to stay competitive? Probably not for long,” he said. “I think we can attract some folks with this salary, some folks who couldn’t come to Effingham County.”