Councilmember declares ‘public safety crisis’ following assessment in Richland County

Published: Dec. 8, 2022 at 7:46 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - One Richland County Councilmember describes an ongoing staffing issue among five government departments as a “public safety crisis.”

County Administrator Leonardo Brown presented a comprehensive assessment to Richland County Council in a public hearing on Tuesday.

The report outlined hiring and retention difficulties related to compensation across the Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD), Emergency Services (EMS), Court-appointed special advocates (CASA), Fifth Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office and Public Defender.

“We’re losing the game and we’re not even really in it at this point,” said Brown during the meeting.

At the time of his presentation, Brown reported 74 vacancies totaling 578 unfulfilled positions across these departments. 27 vacancies in RCSD, 27 in EMS, 2 in CASA, 7 in Solicitor and 11 in Public Defender.

Administrator Brown’s data was followed by a salary increase proposal for preexisting county employees. This, in an effort to curb the retainment problem.

WIS reached out to the department directors of every entity standing to benefit from Brown’s salary proposal. Only the Solicitor and Public Defender’s Office returned our call.

“You’ve got over 17,000 cases, and our caseloads are higher than they’ve ever been. We’re above the national average. So the guys here are doing a yeoman’s job, but we need help,” said Byron E. Gipson, Solicitor of the 5th Circuit Court.

Gipson shares the judicial building on Main Street with the Public Defender. In a written statement from E. Fielding Pringle, Circuit Defender for the 5th Judicial Circuit:

“We are grateful to Administrator Brown and his staff for taking this step to attempt to address the labor shortage and resulting vacancies in our department. I am proud to live in a community where the leadership recognizes the seriousness of this problem and the vacancies we are facing, and rather than ignoring the problem, is really taking the time to look at it and address it head on.”

Brown proposed a starting salary of $62,000 (from $52,483) for all attorneys working in Richland County Government.

The proposal included an annual salary increase ranging anywhere from $80 to $4,999 for RCSD deputies and salary increase averaging 4.7% for EMS.

WIS called every county council member to hear the legislative bodies plan moving forward. Only Joe Walker III of District 6 and Bill Malinowski of District 1 returned our call.

In a statement from Walker III on Wednesday:

“I hope council will move expeditiously to resolve and modernize the compensation needs of these departments to allow them to offer competitive wages to recruit and retain the talent these roles deserve. That being said, only… Sherriff [Leon] Lott has made it clear that we as a county face a public safety crisis if we do not address his agency’s concerns immediately and aggressively.”

According to Brown, county council could afford to act on his proposal based on the budget already set for FY 2023.

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