On Tuesday night, county taxpayers, emergency workers and families packed the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners meeting to be heard, most urging that raises are necessary to keep the community safe.
The price tag to fund 10 percent raises next year for all certified deputies, firefighters and paramedics is estimated at about $4 million.
For many years Cherokee County has enjoyed an enviable reputation as one of the safest counties around. Residents have come to depend on the low crime rate, quick response time and professional level of services from law enforcement officials and firefighting personnel.
And when the Great Recession began, Cherokee County was one of the hardest hit, with property values taking a beating and new construction grinding to a halt. But now the economy is slowly getting back on track and property values are on the rise, and that means more tax dollars coming into county coffers.
For five years, from 2009 to 2013, there were no raises given to any county employees, including police and fire. Then, in 2014, employees received a 2 percent cost of living raise, but that didn’t even keep up with rising insurance costs for those who work for the county.
Leaders within the Sheriff’s Office and fire department say the drain on their personnel has left them with a crisis situation.
The Cherokee Sheriff’s Office alone is averaging about 38 officers a year who decide to leave, and already this year, 30 officers have turned in their resignation. That adds up to almost 200 deputies in five years. The Sheriff’s Office estimates to train a new officer costs an investment of about $92,000. Those costs are lost when an officer leaves, and that is also adding up.
Many residents are now speaking out that they would approve of a tax increase to fund higher salaries for deputies and firefighters. They say it makes more sense to retain the great public safety workers in Cherokee County than to let them go elsewhere.
Many say they hope the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners can find a way to raise salaries for public safety officials and they would support an increase in property taxes to pay some or all of that cost.
The average tax bill would go up somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 per year to fund a decent raise for those who put their lives on the line to protect us.
That seems a small price to pay to help keep our county a safe and great place to live.