By Michael Cuneo –
The Fayette County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a recommendation to increase county officials’ pay by up to 19% on Nov. 9.
All county employees will receive a 10.45% pay increase, while public safety workers will receive an additional 8.55% increase starting Jan. 1, 2022. For Sheriff’s deputies, this 19% pay increase will move the starting salary of $42,117 to $50,117, a number that is 2% higher than the national average and 33% higher than Georgia’s state average.
County Manager Steve Rapson presented the recommendation, sighting an increased number of job vacancies and a need for competitive pay.
“What we’re doing now is reacting to both the social environment we currently find ourselves in and the real-life environment we find ourselves in, which is basically trying to get folks, trying to get applicants, trying to retain our officers as well as everyone else in the county.” Rapson said.
Rapson would show cities in Georgia that have made similar increases in pay for public safety officials, including Sandy Springs, where a 20% increase was implemented for their entire police department, as well as a $10,000 hiring incentive for out-of-state police officers.
Fayette County’s most populated city, Peachtree City, recently approved an increase of 5.2% for all city employees as well as a $1,500 hiring incentive for police and firefighters.
The pay increases will cost $6.3 million, with $3.9 million coming from the county’s general fund. Funding for the pay increase will come from an estimated 9.3% property tax increase applied in the 2023 fiscal year.
Commissioner Eric Maxwell voiced his support for the pay increase, rejecting the notion of defunding the police and instead advocating for the full support of the police from the county.
“We had a change in the White House, and one of the rallying cries from that party is defund the police. At the same time that we have COVID going on, and we’re trying to deal with that, we have politicians in Washington and locally that say defund the police.” Maxwell said when addressing the sizable audience that showed up for the meeting.
While Maxwell referenced police only, he noted that he uses the term generally when referring to all public safety workers.
“This board, and me in particular, have always said that we will not defund the police, that we will support our police. We’ve got this defund the police stuff going on, and it’s having an impact here in Fayette County.” Maxwell said,
Maxwell would go on to talk about the lack of staffing at fast-food restaurants, seemingly trying to correlate the staffing issues the nation is experiencing as a whole to the county’s specific needs.
Commissioner Charles Rousseau, the only African American member of the board, touched on the comments made by Commissioner Maxwell about defunding the police.
“I can’t go without addressing some incendiary words that are being thrown around in our community [regarding] defunding the police. The communities that I have worked with do not advocate that position in its simplest form. We do have a very serious concern with respect to demilitarization of the police force or law enforcement as well as issues of what appears to be a lack of accountability sometimes when it comes to the courts and issues that happen.” Rousseau said.
Rousseau would state his support for the pay increase, adding that he would educate those he speaks with on the necessity of proper police funding.
“I’m on board. I will advocate with the folks that I lead throughout the community, in general, to educate them about why we’re doing this, the necessity of this and to support the personnel that makes this county function and operate.” Rousseau said.
Retired Infantry Officer and Vice Chairman of the board Edward Gibbons gave a resounding amount of support for the pay increase.
“I want to make sure that our people know that we’re behind them. I want to make sure we keep the good people that we have working for Fayette County. There are none better, I think, in any county that surrounds us. I want to make sure that our response times or 911 calls are low. We’re not gonna get there unless we do this and take care of our law enforcement.” Gibbons said.
Chairman Lee Hearn said that the small increase for taxpayers is a beyond equal tradeoff for better safety throughout the county.
“A lot of what I do is I try to be a good listener. I hear loud and clear from our Sheriff and our Fire Chief that we gotta have people. There’s no way to get this done without people. When you look at how far behind we are with our starting pay, it’s obvious that we gotta make a decision about stepping that up.” Hearn said.
“We have to take a step here. There’s nobody that likes to pay taxes less than me, but I polled some of my friends down in Brooks and … everybody said, ‘look I got no problem paying for safety.’” Hearn continued.
All five commissioners approved the recommendation, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022.