Personnel and salary increases are among the top priorities in the proposed 2022 budget talks between department officials and county leaders.
Several officials, representing offices within county government, discussed those topics and much more during a nearly two-hour work session Tuesday afternoon with members of the Baldwin County Board of Commissioners
One of those seeking pay increases for employees is Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee.
The sheriff is requesting $410,000 in order to make such happen.
“You know the last two years have been real strange for our world,” Massee told commissioners. “And it’s been an unbelievable year for law enforcement and being in the profession that I’m in.”
He informed commissioners that he was approaching them differently than he had in the past.
“I’ll be real blunt with you. I didn’t bring my line-item budget in here because y’all have got a staff that works for y’all that truly helps us year-round where we know where we stand with our budget,” Massee said. “They're not hesitant at all to call us and say, ‘Look, y’all need to watch this line item. Y’all need to look at this.’ They work very closely with us.”
Massee told commissioners that he was in a little different situation from other constitutionally elected officers in Baldwin County.
“We don’t close on Fridays; we don’t not work on Saturdays, and we don’t stop work at 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m.,” Massee said.
The sheriff said his people don’t lay out of work.
“They take vacation, they take holidays, and they take sick time,” Massee said. “We’ve had some people that have tested positive for COVID-19, but to be honest with you, they stayed out only the appropriate time. None of them abused it — not the first one.”
Massee said he was smart enough to know that the sheriff’s office is the biggest liability that exists within the county government.
The sheriff explained that he currently has 225 inmates in the county jail.
“We are full of mentally ill people; we are full of people addicted to drugs,” Massee said. “We have all kinds of problems in our jail. I’ve got young men and women and maybe even some older men and women, who work 12-hour shifts, and I see that [County Commissioner Emily] Davis has her mask on, but I’m telling you, Miss Davis doesn’t wear her mask 12-hours a day. I’ve got employees who work inside a building 12 hours a day with a mask. It’s very hard work.”
Massee said his jail staff had been “very professional” and that deputies had and continued to perform and respond to calls during the current pandemic, which is now deep into its second year.
“We’re in a law enforcement crisis,” Massee told county commissioners.
He noted that the Atlanta Police Department, as well as the Georgia State Patrol, are both 400-plus short when it comes to personnel.
“They’re (Georgia State Patrol) so short that they’re recruiting all of our people,” Massee said. “They’re letting them go to a shorter term of Georgia State Patrol School. So, in my presentation to you today, quite candidly, I ask for nothing in my budget except salary increases. I want to raise the detention pay for the people in our jail to where their starting pay is higher than the people who work for the (Georgia) Department of Corrections.”
Massee commended his jail staff.
“I’ve got an initiative going with Georgia College & State University,” Massee said. “We work with the technical school and Georgia Military College just started this George Hogan incentive where they let somebody go to college for two years on a scholarship if they will come and work for the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy sheriff.”
The sheriff said his office actively recruits everywhere, including local college campuses.
“We are 15 short,” Massee said. “If you divide my 15 short and our population and you divide the Atlanta Police Department’s population by their 430 short, they lack one per 1,800 people; I lack one for every 3,000 people in Baldwin County.”
The chief law enforcement officer of the county said when a local resident dials 911 at 2 a.m., they don’t want the 911 center to be closed, and they don’t want to not have a professional response.
Massee also asked for pay increases for his radio dispatchers.
“They are all certified and they do an excellent job for us,” Massee said. “They are the tip of the sword; they are the point of the spear when somebody calls. They’re the ones that help us be a professional agency and a professional county.”
The sheriff said he hopes that his requests in the new budget are enough to raise the starting pay of detention officers, dispatchers and road patrol deputies.
“Hopefully, that will make us be in a situation to where we will be able to recruit even in the hard times that we’re in,” Massee said. “So, that’s my presentation to y’all. It’s pure and simple.”