Sheriff makes case for more people, more money
In a special meeting, Dorchester County Council’s public safety committee voted Friday to have a presentation prepared for the Jan. 7 meeting about the budget impact of hiring four new sheriff’s deputies.
The county would have to find approximately $180,000 annually to cover the cost of salary and benefits for four deputies.
The committee didn’t vote on the second half of Sheriff L.C. Knight’s request, which was to institute a step pay scale that would increase salaries for sheriff’s deputies, detention center officers and dispatchers.
Knight reiterated points he’s made before to council about the difficulty in attracting and retaining deputies when nearby jurisdictions pay more.
Even presumably comparable jurisdictions can’t be compared, he said. The Berkeley County sheriff has 15 percent discretion in what he offers new deputies, Knight said.
“I don’t have any leverage like that. It’s not comparing apples to apples, it’s comparing all kind of fruit,” he said.
Knight said his office covers 545 square miles with 12 people per shift, which works out to 10 people on the road – two per zone.
With annual leave, sick leave and training, there have been times recently when he had six people on a shift, forcing him to pull deputies from court security or civil process and to pay overtime, he said.
That’s not always feasible, he said, and when it happens the work piles up in the other areas.
Adding four deputies would allow him to add one person per shift, which would be a start to keeping up with the county’s growth, he said.
The three members of the committee, Chairman George Bailey, Councilman Richard Rosebrock and, participating by conference call, Councilman David Chinnis, agreed in theory but were concerned about finding the money.
Knight proposed he would pick up the cost in the remaining six months of the current fiscal year by moving funds from his vehicle replacement fund to pay the deputies.
He would then need the county to pay the ongoing costs of the deputies, but he would adjust the vehicle replacement schedule so he would still be replacing the same number of vehicles each year.
He said he’s reduced the average mileage on cars to about 160,000 or fewer miles, down from 200,000 miles when he took office, and adding four cars to the rotation shouldn’t have a significant impact on the mileage.
Chinnis, however, was reluctant to authorize Knight to act now without knowing whether there would be money to pay the new deputies in future budgets.
He and Bailey also suggested council should ask the legislative delegation to have the state underwrite the costs of court security.
Bailey said he’d just been told the state expects millions in surplus revenue.
“Maybe they can just give us $180,000 of that,” he said.
Rosebrock said he agreed with the sheriff.
“We’ve got to have more people, whether we like it or not,” he said.