Right now, Bryan County Sheriff ’s Office deputies fresh out of the academy start at about $14.50 an hour or $30,000 annually, according to Sheriff-elect Mark Crowe.
That’s almost $3 an hour less than the starting pay for a deputy in nearby Effingham County, where a job posting for a patrol deputy with one year of experience or a “combination of education and training” touts a starting salary of $17.29 an hour.
And over in Chatham County, newly hired deputies start at $35,912, or more than $16 an hour, according to the CCSO website.
It’s a problem that hasn’t gone unrecognized by local officials, and last year saw the county begin the first year in a three-year plan to boost deputies pay by 21 percent. Beginning Jan. 1, BCSO deputies will be getting another 4 percent raise next year under the county’s just passed $51.5 million budget for 2021.
The raise is part of a commitment to “making our folks more competitive” with other law enforcement agencies in the area, County Administrator Ben Taylor told commissioners during his presentation at Tuesday night’s commission meeting in South Bryan.
Deputies will also get the county’s annual cost of living allowance raise and increases for longevity. Taylor said by the end of 2022 the combined increases will have mean a 21 percent hike in deputies pay, and officials say better pay enables law enforcement officers to keep good deputies.
During his presentation on the budget, Taylor also highlighted the county’s addition of 12 more firefighters thanks to a $2.3 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security.
Known as a SAFER grant, or Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, the money will fund salaries and benefits for the fire personnel over a three year period.
MORE Salaries and benefits for the county’s will again make up the bulk of the county’s budget, with nearly $22 million earmarked for the county’s approximately 400 employees in departments ranging from BCSO and Bryan County Emergency Services to animal control, the courts, county government, the coroner’s office, the health department, public works, recreation, senior citizens services and the tax assessor and tax commissioner’s offices.
Although Bryan County was the only local government to roll back its millage rate from last year, more than half, or $27.238 million, of the county’s projected $52.4 million in revenue will come from various local taxes, while another $14.5 million is expected to come from grants from other government sources.
An additional $19.28 million is expected to come from fees on services as water and sewer, and various sales taxes such as the special local option sales taxes and transportation special local option sales taxes, and impact fees on new growth. Those fees are projected to raise about $650,000 in 2021, according to the county.
The county approved a 3 percent increase on water and sewer rates for water customers, and increased its fire fee to $220, up $20 from last year.
The county also plans on spending about $300,000 to buy nine new patrol cars for BCSO, as well as two ambulance “remounts” and assorted other vehicles and equipment needed for public works.
Other priorities in the 2021 budget include elevating Mill Hill Road, improving the Highway 280 and Wilma Edwards Road intersection, and evaluating the county’s dirt roads and storm water issues. In addition, the county will begin engineering work on the Cranston Bluff Road intersection, and intersections at Highway 144 and Oak level and Port Royal and Harris Trail, Taylor told commissioners.
Last year’s overall budget was around $47 million, and it has grown steadily as the county’s population growth has increased demand for services.
In 2007, Bryan County had a working budget of about $16.63 million and county residents had a millage rate of 6.911 A decade later, in 2017, it was 9.016 mills in unincorporated Bryan County, 10 mills in Pembroke and 7.99 in Richmond Hill.
In August, 2018, the county commission passed “equalization,” which made the millage rate the same 8.8 mills for all residents in Bryan County. It has since been rolled back to 8.2 mills.
Bryan County's tax equalization initiative prompted Richmond Hill to file suit, and that lawsuit is apparently still in the courts.