Mayor Robert Reichert and the Macon-Bibb County Commission are rightly proud of getting through their first budget cycle. It wasn’t easy, even messy at times, but they got ‘er done.
Now they have to go through the process of three public hearings, because in the quest to equalize what former city residents pay in taxes and what’s paid in the unincorporated county, technically, it’s an increase, even though, according to the mayor, most residents will pay the same or less. However, the county’s legal ad does state that property taxes would increase 19.43 percent. That will be explained at the upcoming public hearings on the matter -- the first ones at 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesday, and the last at 6 p.m. Aug. 19, all in the Government Center on Poplar Street.
But there is a riptide coming, an undertow, that if not recognized could take the area deep out to sea. The full impact of consolidating city and county governments will take years to work through, but there is one area that needs addressing in the next budget cycle.
When the two law enforcement agencies, the Macon Police Department and the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, became one, the issue of an equalized pay scale was put on the back burner, but if not addressed soon, there are several consequences that will occur -- and pay disparity impacts more than just law enforcement.
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While the disparity is negligible in deputies who have between one and eight years of service, it gets acute with more experienced deputies. While the average disparity, depending on rank and years of service, may only be between $4,000 and $5,000, according to Sheriff David Davis, there are some pretty egregious gaps as well.
For example, a private with the city police force with 22 years of service earns $31,179, but that same private would make $57,841 in the sheriff’s office.
The authorized force is 640 to 650 sworn deputies, with another 75 civilians. About 305 employees in the office are former city employees.
The impact on morale if this situation continues is obvious. Having two deputies, with equal service and abilities and training, making different amounts of pay is a recipe for baking deep-seated problems. As it is, some of the former officers, now deputies, nearing retirement, will never catch up. Some, realizing that, are retiring or heading to other agencies.
And many of the other agencies around the state will start seeing blood in the water and use Bibb County as a recruiting pool.
What would it take to fix this problem? No one knows exactly, but the sheriff’s office estimates that it would cost between $1.4 million and $1.6 million. While it may take some time to fix all the pay disparities inherent with the merged governments, fixing it for those who serve and protect us needs to be a top priority.