Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt seeking 15% pay raise for his employees

·4 min read

May 25—Saying additional funds are needed to recruit and retain employees, Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt asked County Council to include a 15% pay raise for his staff in the county's budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year.

"We need to stay competitive with other places throughout the state," Hunt told the Aiken Standard following his presentation.

And that is becoming increasingly difficult, according to the sheriff.

Hunt said that South Carolina's budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, which hasn't been finalized yet, has a "big" (15%) raise for state law enforcement personnel in it.

Aiken County's proposed 2023-2024 financial plan, which County Administrator Clay Killian unveiled to County Council earlier this month, recommends a 3% raise for all county employees, but nothing above that for Hunt's staff.

Killian also estimated that an increase in property taxes of "just over 3 mills" would be needed to "fully fund the proposed budget."

Based on his calculation, each 1 mill of increase would generate approximately $825,000 in additional revenue for the county.

Already part of the proposed budget is a $3.4-million allocation to fund a "mid-year adjustment" in pay for Emergency Medical Services Department employees and a change for those workers from a 24 hours on/48 hours off shift schedule to a 24 hours on/72 hours off schedule, which requires more personnel to implement.

To cover a 15% boost in salaries for Sheriff's Office employees along with other requests for additional funding that Hunt made, County Council would need to add $2,308,428.24 to the proposed budget.

Another $479,000 would be needed to pay for the funding adjustments requested by Capt. Nick Gallam, who is the Sheriff's Office's jail administrator.

The county is required by law to have a balanced budget.

Both Hunt and Gallam, who is in charge of the county's detention center, addressed County Council at the Aiken County Government Center during a work session to prepare the 2023-2024 budget.

Others who made funding requests Tuesday included Coroner Darryl Ables and Bill Weeks, who is the chief prosecutor for South Carolina's 2nd Judicial Circuit.

The new fiscal year will begin July 1.

"I think there is a lot of interest to follow up on the sheriff's requests, particularly since they pertain to public safety in the same way that our dealing with EMS has dealt with public safety," said County Council Chairman Gary Bunker. "We want to be as supportive as possible on those. We'll have to start sharpening our pencils and seeing what is possible. It's a matter of what we choose to cut out of the budget and what additional revenue we choose to raise."

Councilman Kelley Mobley, who represents District 4, expressed concern that "to satisfy recurring revenue needs," it might require a 6- to 8-mill increase in property taxes.

The range, he said, is an "educated guess" on his part.

"I think we are facing some challenges as the result of Council decisions over the past 20 years where potential millage rate increases have been deferred because the county has been blessed by one-time sources of revenue," Mobley continued. "This is a trying budget cycle for sure."

Additional funding for the Sheriff's Office "is something that we're going to definitely have to take into consideration," Mobley said. "If we can find a way to do it, it's warranted. We've got to stay competitive in the public safety space to keep the community safe, but I also think we have to look at salaries for county employees across the board.

"We've got to figure out what we need and figure out a strategy. Then we're going to have to transparently communicate that to the community. But I'm also not telling you at this point that I'm going to support a millage increase at all.

"I think we've got to take a real tough look at expenses, and I think we have to take a realistic look at revenues," Mobley concluded. "Are expenses greater than we think they are? Are there places where we can possibly offset some of those expenses? There are some difficult conversations to be had."