Gwinnett law enforcement ‘appreciative’ of significant pay raises

Gwinnett officials believe newly approved pay raises for local law enforcement officers and other county employees will be a worthwhile investment.

Even if it’s one that had to be funded through the oft-dreaded increase of property taxes.

“There’s pressure all the way through the organization, is the way I would describe it,” Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said Wednesday, referencing vacancies and attrition issues throughout Gwinnett’s government. ” … We’re not handling the responsibilities of our office if we don’t address issues like this.”

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With a resolution adopted during their Tuesday night meeting, Nash and her fellow commissioners approved much-discussed pay increases for sworn employees of Gwinnett's police department, sheriff's office and corrections departments, as well as its 911 communications center.

All of those employees will now receive a 4 percent pay bump — in addition to the 3 percent “market adjustment” that will be offered both to them and to virtually all other full-time county employees.

That means Gwinnett law enforcement personnel will essentially get a raise of 7 percent. In a briefing in front of the Board of Commissioners earlier this month, police chief Butch Ayers said his department's starting salary of around $36,000 was, on average, about 7 percent less than that of comparable agencies.

That factor has been key in the department’s years-long struggles to hire and retain new officers.

“We are aware and appreciative of the pay increase,” Gwinnett County police spokesman Cpl. Deon Washington said.

Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway said he too was thankful for the commission’s support.

“The remedy for attrition is better pay,” Conway said in an emailed statement, “so this pay increase is a valuable tool in our efforts to invest in the best, brightest and most dedicated professionals to serve our community.”

The increases will go into effect with the Nov. 4 pay period, officials said. Exactly how much the raises will cost the county was not immediately clear.

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Tuesday’s action was made possible by a vote during the summer to increase the county’s millage rate.

The commission opted in July to increase the rate by about one-third of a mill, an amount that officials equated to about $21 additional property tax dollars for the owner of the "average," $200,000 Gwinnett County home. The decision was not unanimous.

District 3 Commissioner Tommy Hunter and District 4 Commissioner John Heard both voted against the proposal, with the latter suggesting a lower, “revenue neutral” millage rate. Heard said at the time that he made the motion based on what he was hearing from the public.

In a press release sent following Tuesday’s resolution, both commissioners said the pay increases would help Gwinnett remain competitive in law enforcement and elsewhere.

Law enforcement has gotten the bulk of the attention, and perhaps rightfully so — GCPD is operating 93 officers short of full strength and the sheriff's office currently has 38 deputy vacancies.

But at full strength, Gwinnett County has a total of nearly 5,000 employees. And county officials say those outside law enforcement are often lagging behind as well when compared to the pay of their colleagues in other governments or in the private sector.

Nash had publicly suggested pay raises would be included in the 2018 budget recommendations that she will issue in the coming weeks, but said Wednesday she’d hoped all along something might get done sooner.

“We still just know there’s so much pressure on it,” Nash said. “And we just felt like this was important to go ahead and put this in place to demonstrate to folks that we’re going to do more than talk about it.”

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