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Ga. deputies get a pay raise

By Andria Simmons
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Gwinnett County commissioners approved a pay hike for sheriff's deputies Wednesday, putting their salaries on par with county police officers in an attempt to stem severe staffing shortages at the jail.

After some debate, the board unanimously approved Commissioner Lorraine Green's motion to spend an extra $1.5 million in the 2008 county budget to cover an across-the-board pay increase of 4 percent to 5 percent for deputies, depending upon their rank. The base salary for a starting deputy will rise from $35,000 to $37,000.

"The raise will hopefully bring staffing levels up to reduce the need for overtime," Green said. "We anticipate a significant savings in overtime costs."

Overtime pay to deputies cost the county about $4 million last year because the sheriff's department is short 60 deputies. Chairman Charles Bannister called that a "catastrophic number" and said "we need to do what we can to reduce that."

Deputy salaries that have gone unpaid due to all the unfilled positions will probably cover this year's overtime pay increase, County Finance Director Lisa Johnsa said.

Bannister had proposed a more modest budget addition of $555,000 to fund a $4,000 hiring incentive to new deputies. Bannister said he had hoped to defer raising the pay for all deputies until 2009.

Green argued that hiring incentives would only address part of the problem, because the county also is losing some of its experienced deputies to higher-paying law enforcement agencies. The chief duties for deputies are running the jail, serving warrants and providing security at the courthouse.

Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway said the salary increases will take effect immediately.

"I'm very pleased with that vote," Conway said. "I believe it'll help us retain and hire good deputies."

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