Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
The Franklin Town Council voted to adjust the town’s pay scale to include “step” raises for the Franklin Police Department.
Town Manager Summer Woodard asked the town council to consider the pay scale adjustments because the original scale would have beginning patrol officers being hired at the same pay scale as veteran officers.
“We have in some cases, a new officer being hired on at the same rate as an officer who has worked for the department for 17 years,” said Woodard.
The adjustment, which was unanimously approved by the town council, implements step positions for patrol officers based on years of service. The newly approved positions include Master Police Officer I, Master Police Officer II, Master Police Officer III, First Sergeant, Lieutenant, and Police Commander.
Prior to the last week’s adjustment, Franklin Police Officers, regardless of years with the department, would be in the same pay range ($33,521-$49,482) unless promoted to a supervisory position. The adjustments “give officers something to work toward,” said Woodard.
Town Councilman Mike Lewis said that with the amount of turnover happening in law enforcement, he supported extra incentives for officers. The Franklin Police Department currently has two vacancies.
The new pay scale defines requirements officers must meet to move up in the pay scale. To be promoted to Master Police Officer I, officers must have a minimum of two continuous years of service as a police officer (non-probationary) with the Franklin Police Department and training in either interviews and interrogations or community-oriented policing. The next step is Master Police Officer II which requires one continuous year of service as a Master Police Officer I with the Franklin Police Department with training in First Line Supervisor and Field Training Officer. The next step is Master Police Officer III and requires a minimum of one continuous year of service as a Master Police Officer II and graduate from a two or four-year college or university.
The new pay scale for the Franklin Police Department also includes additional supervisory positions within the department. The First Sergeant position requires a minimum of 10 years of continuous service to the Franklin Police Department, two or four-year college as well as completion of training. The change also adds a Lieutenant classification that requires 12 years continuous service, a degree, and training.
The step raises implemented by the town of Franklin mirrors the same pay structure as the town of Highlands. The Macon County Sheriff’s Department does not currently have step raises for patrol officers, however, it is something that Sheriff Robert Holland said he is working toward.
“For us, it shouldn’t be just for patrol. We are a larger department and have various units with our agency. I have tried for years to have step raises for deputies and detention officers (Deputy 1 and Deputy 2 and Detention 1 and Detention 2), as well as incentives, but we have been unsuccessful,” said Sheriff Holland. “Over the last year, I and other department heads have worked with the county manager at the direction of Chairman Tate to look at comparisons regarding pay and I was confident that we were going to be able to implement the appropriate steps this year during our budget talks, but then COVID19 struck and we saw a decrease in the funds coming into the county. In our county, the sheriff has no control over the designated pay scale for employees of his agency. The county has a set range for all positions in all departments. We know after all the work we have done in our review of other counties that our pay scale is inadequate and needs to be addressed.”
Woodard said that the implementation of the new pay scale for the Franklin Police Department wouldn’t immediately require additional funding from the town at this point, however, current employees will be reviewed based on the new pay scale.
“Current officers’ certifications and qualifications would be reviewed and then they would be classified accordingly,” said Woodard. “Also, the pay grades largely overlap as is so even if an employee moves into a higher pay grade, it may not necessarily mean that they will receive an increase.”
Franklin Police Chief Bill Harrell said that his department currently has two open positions. Sheriff Robert Holland spoke to commissioners Tuesday night 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.”
County Manager Derek Roland said that the budget had already been finalized for this year, and although the county has over $20 million in 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.
Despite Sheriff Holland explaining 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, commissioner’s 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.