BEAUFORT — At the request of Sheriff Asa Buck, county commissioners agreed to raise salaries for Carteret County Sheriff’s Office employees by 10% across the board as a way to address recruitment and retention issues affecting the agency, a move the county manager hopes the board considers for other county departments, as well.
Sheriff Buck appeared before commissioners during their monthly meeting Monday evening at the administration complex in Beaufort to formally request the pay increase for his department. He prepared a slideshow presentation with figures comparing CCSO salaries to those of other local law enforcement agencies, as well as numbers related to his proposed salary increase and how it would be funded.
According to the sheriff’s numbers, CCSO ranks second from last out of 10 local law enforcement agencies – eight municipal departments, plus the sheriff’s office and N.C. State Highway Patrol – in starting pay for officers/deputy sheriffs. The agency’s starting salary is $35,956, above only that of the Newport Police Department, which starts at $34,565. The highest-paid municipal department is Morehead City at a starting salary of $43,500, with most of the others in the upper $30,000 range.
Most recently, the sheriff’s office addressed salary compression within its department with a pay adjustment that took effect in 2017. Sheriff Buck said that helped boost CCSO’s pay compared to other agencies for a while, but the other departments have since caught up and surpassed the sheriff’s office again.
Commission Chairperson Ed Wheatly likened the back-and-forth pay increases to a “game of leap frog.”
“We raise it, it keeps going up and going up, and here we are again,” he said during Monday’s discussions.
Sheriff Buck acknowledged that reality, but said the CCSO is currently dealing with high turnover – it has a 56% turnover rate over the past 2.5 years in the patrol division – and is struggling particularly with recruiting and retaining high quality candidates for deputies. He said that’s largely because the pay is not competitive enough to attract and keep individuals.
“I believe we that we have to keep our salaries competitive with other local law enforcement agencies and some of those surrounding agencies with whom we compete,” Sheriff Buck said. “The main way we have to do that is salaries…the annual salary is what most people are going to consider when they’re looking to start their career.”
To that end, Sheriff Buck initially requested a 16.81% across-the-board increase in starting grade salaries for the sheriff’s office, a pay bump that would apply to all employees, including administrative staff, and bring the starting pay for deputies up to $42,000. The increase took into account the 2.5% merit pay increase already approved by commissioners for all county employees this year, so, in effect, it was request for a 14.31% overall increase costing $541,880 for the remainder of fiscal 2021-22.
As Sheriff Buck proposed, it would be largely paid for out of the CCSO’s concealed weapons fund, which stands at $309,147, with the county on the hook to pay the remaining $232,000 needed.
However, the proposal generated some pushback from commissioners who thought the increase was too high.
“I support you but that’s not…frugal,” Commissioner Mark Mansfield said. “A 14% pay raise is 12% more than what everyone else is getting, I don’t see nothing [sic] frugal about that.”
County manager Tommy Burns also questioned the proposal, pointing out that other departments are also struggling with recruitment and retention issues driven by low pay.
“We have a lot of other needs in our county, too, especially in 911 (communications), especially in building inspections and social workers and library assistants,” Mr. Burns said. “So, there are some other pay needs to be mindful of in the county as far as…an equitable solution.”
After some discussion, Commissioner Chris Chadwick made a motion to accept the sheriff’s recommendation to raise salaries 14.31% overall. The motion failed in a 3-4 vote, with commissioners Chadwick, Bob Cavanaugh and Wheatly voting in favor and commissioners Mansfield, Robin Comer, Chuck Shinn and Jimmy Farrington voting against.
Upon the motion failing, Sheriff Buck shared he had come prepared with a plan B proposal in case commissioners did not agree to his original request. Plan B asked for a 12.5% increase, which comes out to a 10% overall increase with the 2.5%merit increase included. Using the money from the concealed weapons fund, the county would have to pay $53,487 for the remainder of fiscal 2021-22 under plan B.
The board seemed more amenable to that option and ended up unanimously approving the sheriff’s request.
In his manager’s report toward the end of commissioners’ regular session Monday, Mr. Burns said while he was happy to help out the sheriff’s office, he encouraged commissioners to not leave behind other county departments that are also struggling.
“I appreciate that we were able to do something tonight for our sheriff’s office, but I also want to keep you mindful of the department heads that we have who have not been up here several times asking (for increases),” he said. “…It is a retention issue for us, it’s also a training and turnover issue for us, and we may be coming to you with some ideas…I think we’re going to probably be bringing some things to you for the areas that have been particularly difficult for us to recruit.”
Contact Elise Clouser at [email protected]; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.