The Calhoun County Commission raised the starting pay for some corrections officer positions on Thursday to help alleviate understaffing at the jail.
The commission included the pay raise in its approximately $18.5 million, 2019 fiscal year general fund budget. The increase comes after Sheriff Matthew Wade raised concerns in recent months that he couldn’t recruit enough corrections officers to oversee inmates because the starting pay was too low.
The commission approved the budget during its regular meeting on Thursday.
Specifically, the commission raised starting pay for new, non-civil service corrections officers to $12 an hour from $10 an hour. Starting pay is $12.66 per hour for civil service jail employees.
“This is just for corrections officers who work inside the jail,” Mark Tyner, county administrator, said of the pay raise.
Commissioner Tim Hodges said he hoped the pay raise would help Wade and the county jail.
“Now they can make adjustments so they can hire more people,” Hodges said of the jail.
During a phone interview after the meeting, Wade said he hoped the higher pay would make a difference in the hiring process.
“Our goal is to attract and retain employees,” Wade said. “It’s a very difficult job”
Wade said the jail was understaffed and that he had about 30 open slots that he’s been unable to fill, mainly because he’s been unable to attract qualified people with the pay that was offered.
“You can’t just hire anybody,” Wade said.
Wade said applicants must pass polygraph tests, criminal background checks and drug tests.
“We polygraphed five or six people in the last week and only two have passed,” Wade said.
The understaffing issue has been exacerbated in recent months by overcrowding at the jail.
As of Thursday, the Sheriff’s Office had 550 inmates — a reduction from the 650 inmates it averaged in August, Wade said.
“We are getting some relief there,” Wade said. “We’re not sure why, but we’ll take it.”
Besides new jail hires, the budget included a 2 percent cost of living increase for all full-time county employees.
“I’m proud we’re able to give that 2 percent cost of living raise,” said Commissioner Don Hudson.
Also, the budget included a 5 percent increase in employee health insurance costs that the commission decided not to pass on to county workers.
Also during the meeting, the commission appointed Greg Militano as acting director of the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency. Militano is currently deputy director of the agency.