Cumberland County Sheriff Butch Burgess has requested four additional deputies in the 2014-'15 budget, but he told members of the Cumberland County Commission Budget Committee he was willing to forgo the increase in personnel if the county would look at salary increases for deputies.
"There is something that has got to be done this year, and that is getting these salaries up where they're anywhere near comparable to these counties," Burgess said. "We're losing officers and it's going to get worse because this is an election year.
Cumberland County pays a starting salary of $24,500 a year for deputies, both certified and non-certified, and $22,000 a year for corrections officers. This is below the pay offered by the city of Crossville and many surrounding counties. Crossville pays a starting salary of $25,464 for non-certified officers and $26,737 for certified officers. Fentress County pays non-certified starting deputy salaries of $22,214.40, but once certified, a starting salary jumps to $26,208. Putnam County does not hire non-certified deputies, but pays a starting salary of $28,000 a year for certified officers. Roane County pays $32,869 as a starting salary for certified deputies.
"We're losing officers after we get them trained. We put in something that if they leave within a year, they owe so much. But, we're not competing now for the older officers of the ones already certified. Now, it's gotten where we're losing a lot of them out of the jail," Burgess said.
Burgess told the committee he had lost three deputies to other counties and lost two corrections officers in the last week to other counties.
Carmin Lynch, 9th District commissioner, said, "These were comparable salaries seven years ago. The fact is, the scale hasn't moved in seven years. You can't say we're running to the scale and leave the scale the same for seven years."
"It doesn't matter who gets elected, they are going to get hammered by that," Burgess said. "We have good people who are highly trained. You're losing a lot when you lose them."
Commissioners questioned if Burgess' budget anticipated keeping four deputies in the schools as School Resource Officers, as has been done this past year.
Burgess said, "I won't be saying so, but we're pulling those four off the schools when school is over and have them work the road."
When asked if Burgess intended to return those officers to the schools in the fall, Burgess said, "I'm not planning on putting them back in [the schools]. I told them this year I would do that and I did. I stuck with it. We bit the bullet. I won't do it next year."
Burgess and the Cumberland County Board of Education agreed to cover the first year costs of the SRO program, with the school board budgeting $233,000 for a one-time expenditure. However, the school board and county commission were unable to complete the budget transfer, however, because they were not able to approve an interlocal agreement.
The preliminary budget of the school system includes the $233,000 budgeted for the program last year as part of a continuing SRO program.
Burgess said the additional positions were requested to help take care of the number of calls the department is called to.
"We're the second largest county in the state," Burgess said. "By putting those guys [the current SRO officers] on an overlap shift, that gives me extra coverage."
The sheriff's department has not increased the number of road officers since 1998. That year, the department responded to 2,836 calls. In 2013, the department answered 47,600 calls.
The budget committee was not prepared to discuss county employee salaries at the meeting. Members reviewed the budget line by line, with additional expenses for new positions removed, including two proposed corrections officers.
Harry Sabine, 1st District commissioner and chairman of the budget committee, said, "We need a committee to look at the entire wage scale. It's not fair to just look at one department."
Burgess said, "I hope everybody would get that, but I've got to try to keep the ones I've got who are trained and live here."
The sheriff's department did have an increase in cost for Internet access to patrol cars, at $15,000. This allows officers to check for active warrants and run driver's licenses and tags from the patrol car.
The budget committee will meet today at 4:30 p.m. in the small meeting room of the Cumberland County Courthouse for its regular monthly meeting. May 13, the committee is scheduled to discuss capital purchases and personnel. That meeting begins at 4:30 p.m. and will be held in the small meeting room of the Cumberland County Courthouse.