Richland County Sheriff pleads for higher deputy pay as county council considers significantly upping its salaries

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Published: Oct. 27, 2022 at 7:58 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says his deputies are underpaid, which is making it hard to keep them on staff.

He is pleading for raises from the Richland County Council.

Lott sent a letter outlining these concerns to the council this week, one day after it approved the second reading of an ordinance that would increase pay for county council members by thousands of dollars.

WIS obtained a copy of the letter, which reads in part, “I have always publicly supported Council and I will continue to do so, but I am at a loss on understanding how your Sheriff’s Department cannot receive assistance in a critical situation.”

According to Lott, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department has already lost 71 deputies this year.

“Some of these are long-standing, long-tenured, been with the county 14, 16, 17 years, and they can simply walk across the county line and get a 20 percent pay raise,” Richland County District 6 Councilman Joe Walker said. “I see the problem. As a business owner and someone who tries to retain good talent, I absolutely see the issue.”

Lott wrote that it’s difficult for RCSD to compete with other law enforcement agencies around the state, which can offer up to $10,000 dollars more to deputies.

He included recruitment flyers from the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office, Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, and Columbia Police Department, which all advertise higher pay than RCSD.

Richland County Council Chair Overture Walker sent WIS a statement in response, which reads: “I want the public to know that Council appreciates and is grateful for the service of Sheriff Lott to the citizens of Richland County. But I think it’s also important to highlight that this Council has and will continue to be very supportive of the men and women of RCSD. From $40 million in funding for a new 911 call center and $6 million in ARPA appropriations to RCSD, both at the Sheriff’s request, to the 4% cost of living increase, this Council has been unwavering in its support of law enforcement. Not to mention, the Sheriff’s Department comprises approximately 28% of the entire County budget.

Moreover, it’s been brought to my attention that the RCSD will no longer be responsible for the transportation of RCSD detainees at the detention center to and from court. If true, Council will have to weigh the impact of that decision on the budget in conjunction with the pay increase request from the Sheriff.”

Richland County Council is in the process of considering upping its own salaries by more than 75 percent, from around $15,000 to $25,768.

That figure equals 80 percent of the minimum salary for a county employee.

RCSD deputy pay, along with pay for other county employees, increased by a minimum of four percent, with the maximum being 33.1 percent.

Chairman Walker added in a statement, “Unfortunately, the Council pay increase item is being used as a political straw man to create a public narrative that County Council is increasing its pay at the expense of deputies and County employees. Said narrative is just patently false and borderline reprehensible.”

David Darmofal, the vice chair of the political science department at the University of South Carolina, said state legislative studies show that elected officials who are paid more do differ in some ways from those who are paid less.

“They tend to introduce more legislation, they tend to miss fewer votes,” he said. “They tend to be more reflective of the voters in their districts in terms of ideology. It can lead people to be more likely to run for reelection. It can lead to representing citizen interests over business interests sometimes.”

Councilman Walker voted against that pay increase.

He said the timing and optics of this decision are not good during this period of high inflation.

According to Councilman Walker, the council is working on a solution for deputy pay increases.

“I’m not in any way saying that the remainder of council is not paying attention to it, I just think the importance and the critical nature of the ask needs to be observed,” he said. “I think it’s abundantly clear based on the sheriff’s tenor that we need to move as fast as we can to help patch this wound.”

Lott declined to comment on this story.

The pay increase for Richland Council needs to pass a third reading before it becomes official.

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