Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
At Tuesday night’s regular meeting of the Macon County Board of Commissioners Franklin Police Chief Bill Harrell said that his department currently has two open positions. Sheriff Robert Holland addressed commissioners at the meeting and said with Franklin’s new pay scale, and Highlands already having a similar pay scale, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Sheriff’s Department to fill vacant positions.
“As of today, we have 11 vacancies,” Sheriff Holland. “We have two strong applicants for those positions, but that will still leave us with nine open spots, which is something I don’t recall ever happening in my 28 years in law enforcement for this county.”
Holland said that morale for the department, for law enforcement across the board, is at an all time low, resulting in fewer and fewer people entering the profession, especially considering the pay.
“Every department in this county is extremely important and I know that all department heads want more for their employees, but I can only speak to you about my department and my employees,” said Holland. “They are the only ones in this county that are asked to put on a bullet proof vest and go to work, risking their lives, having guns pointed in their faces, being asked to attend an event just to have an entire group of people chant “All cops are bastards” and do it all for $15 or $16 an hour.”
Holland noted that based on the county’s current pay scale, a beginning officer would make the same as an officer with a two- or four-year degree.
“I have officers who, while working for the department, on their own go out and complete their two-year degree. Then they go on and they get their four-year degree,” said Holland. “And what do they get for it? Nothing from the county, but the county gets a better trained, more dedicated officer.”
Holland said that with so many vacancies, especially in patrol, when school begins this Fall, he will have to make the tough decision regarding whether School Resource Officers will go into the classrooms or if they will have to fill other positions to account for the vacancies.
“For a long time now we have been a training spot for other departments,” said Holland. “They apply here, and we invest in them and send them through BLET and train them, then they take that experience and apply to a department that will pay for the time they have put in, because here, they make the same on day one as they do on year five unless they are promoted to a supervisor.”
Sheriff Holland explained that the number of calls the department is receiving continues to increase, and the vacancies within the department present a safety danger for the public.
County Manager Derek Roland said that the budget had already been finalized for this year, and although the county has more than a $20 million fund balance, it is unlikely the county will have funding to address the sheriff’s concerns this year due to revenue shortfalls caused by COVID19.
Commissioners said they could consider Holland’s request in December when they complete a mid-year budget review to evaluate the impact COVID19 has on the county budget. v