County Pay Hikes Spark Local Competition

Raises for Public Safety Departments Force Town’s Hand

WINNSBORO (Dec. 8, 2016) – Just two months ago, Fairfield County was facing a critical personnel shortage in its emergency services departments, with paramedics, deputies, detention officers and 9-1-1 staff chasing better pay in neighboring counties.

But a salary increase passed by County Council on Nov. 14 has stopped the bleeding, Deputy County Administrator Davis Anderson said this week, and staffing in the County’s safety sensitive departments is reaching normal operative levels.

The County’s move has put the Town of Winnsboro in a tough spot as their Public Safety officers, who have both police and fire certification, yet have a starting salary of just $24,000, look for greener pastures in their own community.

Tuesday night, Town Council took their first steps toward addressing the pay gap, voting unanimously to up Public Safety salaries $3,000 across the board.

“People have to provide for their families, and if they can make more money and they can still stay in the community, then we think it’s incumbent upon us to try to make our salaries as competitive as we can,” Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy said. “At budget time we will look at an increase in salaries to look at bringing them up to closer to what our competition is.”

Town Manager Don Wood said the Town will try to fund the raises “through our normal operation and maintenance account.”

“But if push comes to shove,” Wood added, “we would have to look into our savings.”

The County, meanwhile, is rapidly filling open slots thanks to its recent pay hike.

“It’s making a difference,” Anderson said. “Immediately after we gave the pay raise, three EMS employees rescinded their resignations, and we’ve had two part-time employees request to go to full-time. And we interviewed five more for positions last week.”

The Detention Center, Anderson said, has added two new officers since the November pay increase, although they still have two more slots to fill. The Sheriff’s Office, meanwhile, is interviewing for its three remaining positions, Anderson said, and they have a healthy pool of applicants from which to choose.

It has been a drastic turnaround from a mere two months ago.

In October, County Council’s Administrative and Finance Committee learned that the County had lost 30 percent of its paramedic staff in the month of September alone. That left the department with 11 full-time and 15 part-time openings, and put the County at risk of losing its Advanced Life Saving (ALS) license. Had that come to pass, Director of Fairfield County EMS Mike Tanner told the Committee, the County’s paramedics would be reduced to giving nothing more than basic care, which would exclude even administering medication.

During their Nov. 14 meeting, Council gave the OK to Anderson’s proposal to increase the entry level pay for paramedics from $31,000 a year to $34,000, topping out at $61,000 a year. Entry level salaries at the Sheriff’s Office went from $30,625 to $34,000, with an additional $1,000 upon completion of the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy (SCCJA). Council also approved an additional $3,000 for all current certified deputies and a 1.025 percent increase for current deputies with five years of service.

Entry level salaries for Detention Center officers went from $31,000 to $32,000 upon completion of the SCCJA, with a $300 per year experience factor. Entry level salaries for 9-1-1 Services went from $29,184 to $30,184 upon completion of SCCJA and a $300 increase per year of experience. Emergency Medical Telecommunicators will receive $1,000 for certification to be qualified to give medical instructions over the phone.

The cost to the County for the pay raises is just over $495,559 a year, which County Administrator Jason Taylor told Council on Nov. 14 would come from the County’s fund balance.