In the past 18 months, 10 deputies have left the Haywood sheriff’s office and another three are in the process of leaving. Two detectives and a handful of jailers are among the departures as well. All cited higher pay at another job as their motivation.
“In the vast majority of those exit interviews, they told me they had no desire to go anywhere else. They were happy here. They said ‘We don’t want to go, but we have no choice,’” Chief Deputy Jeff Haynes said.
Of those who left over the past 18 months, almost all are going to work for another law enforcement agency. With just a 30- to 45-minute commute, a Haywood deputy can make more in Jackson, Macon, Swain, Madison, Buncombe or Henderson counties. With an hour commute, Rutherford and Transylvania join the list of higher-paying forces.
“What bothers me is we have so many small counties half the size of Haywood that are paying more,” County Commissioner Bill Upton said.
Sheriff Greg Christopher said the turnover comes at a price. There’s a material cost in training and certifying the officers. It can take weeks and even months before a new officer is ready to assume a regular shift rotation.
Plus, there’s the cost of outfitting them with bulletproof vests made to fit each person’s body, and they can’t necessarily be used by the next officer coming in. Even uniforms are occasionally tailored and thus not interchangeable, Christopher said.
If the sheriff’s office could keep more of its deputies, savings in training and uniform costs would partly offset the higher salaries.
“If you look at what it costs to replace them, and you cut some of that out, you are almost paying for it,” Commissioner Mike Sorrells said of the raises.
Aside from the material savings, reducing the turnover rate brings a larger benefit, County Manager Ira Dove said.
“You will also have a better force, not having to constantly retrain,” Dove said.
Christopher agreed his department has lost good officers.
“We have become a training field,” Christopher said. “I have other sheriffs come up and tell me ‘Thank you very much for sending me deputy so-and-so.’”
Haywood County commissioners were easily convinced after hearing Christopher make the case for better deputy pay during a special county meeting last week.
The salary plan proposed by Christopher would be phased in over three years. The additional salary load would cost $300,000 a year once fully implemented, but would be offset by various savings. But the actual cost will be around $150,000 to $200,000, thanks to savings on training and certification for new hires, less overtime pay associated with turnover, and an end to annual bonuses.The most acute salary discrepancy is for entry-level officers, so that’s where the plan starts.
Entry-level deputies will get a raise of 5 percent, effective in January, bringing the hourly pay from $13.72 up to $14.40. That will bump Haywood ahead of four other counties that it now lags behind, including Jackson and Swain.
The plan calls for an additional 5 percent raise in year two, and again in year three. All deputies, not just entry-level employees, would get the 5 percent raises in years two and three.
Meanwhile, all other sworn officers would see a one-time raise of 4 percent.
Commissioners said they were committed in principle to phase in the full salary plan, but approval for the 5 percent deputy raises in years two and three would not happen until budget time in the summer.
Commissioner Mark Swanger said it is the right thing to do, but the county will now face the hard task of making room for the higher salaries.
“We have to have our eyes wide open. This is a recurring expense that would be with us forever,” Swanger said.
Raising the bar isn’t hard when it’s this low
Haywood deputies are the lowest paid in the region. A plan to incrementally increase their salaries over three years has been endorsed in principle by county commissioners. Entry-level deputies would get a raise of 15 percent and other deputies would get a raise of 10 percent over the next three years. All other sworn officers would get a one-time raise of 4 percent.
Here’s how entry-level law enforcement hourly pay compares among agencies in surrounding counties.
Buncombe County deputy: $17.74
Asheville police officer: $16.83
Madison County deputy: $16.44
Henderson County deputy: $16.37
Macon County deputy: $15.51
Transylvania County deputy: $14.98
Waynesville police officer: $14.95
Jackson County deputy: $14.35
Rutherford County deputy: $14.16
Swain County deputy: $13.99
McDowell County deputy: $13.78
Haywood County deputy: $13.72
* Hourly rates listed are for entry-level positions. Data compiled by Haywood sheriff’s office.