Sheriff Lott in e-mail to Council: raises for deputies needed

Published: Jun. 18, 2015 at 4:12 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 28, 2015 at 4:12 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Turnover isn't just a growing problem for the Columbia police and fire departments.

The Richland County Sheriff's Department has also seen their share of turnover as well.

"We had a 15% attrition rate last year," Major Chris Cowan of the Richland County Sheriff's Department said. "Most of the people that we interviewed, the reason that they left was for salaries…lack of salaries. That hurts us."

Major Cowan said that translates to about 50 or more lost deputies and paid-staff just last year.

"What we've been trying to do for years is get the salaries for the department up to be equal to other comparable agencies across the state."

So far, that hasn't happened. Now, as Richland County Council still tries to find the money to give Columbia-Richland firefighters for raises, RCSD is lobbying for raises as well.

"That's what we're looking for is equity in caring for all public safety," Major Cowan said, "and you can't provide public safety in one area and not provide it in another, because that's not balanced. That's not fair to the citizens."

WIS received a copy of an email sent from Sheriff Leon Lott to council members just this week.

"I can relate to the recruitment and retention issues the City of Columbia is facing concerning the Fire Department," Lott writes. "I am facing the exact same issues with your Sheriff's Department."

"I have never engaged in intimidation with Council nor showmanship at Council Meetings," the letter continues. "If you think it's necessary at this time for me to overflow the June 22 Council Meeting with Deputies and Citizens in support of our needs being equally addressed, then I can do that too."

"This is not an us-versus-them," Major Cowan said. "This is what's best for the Sheriff's Department family and best for the community."

A proposal by Councilman Jim Manning is still on the table that would give RCSD an additional $700,000 for raises. Councilman Seth Rose plans to support it.

"They're number one on my list with the fire department as well," Rose said. "Both of those agencies need to be funded. Public safety has to be number one, and after public safety, we have to prioritize."

Manning and Rose blame state lawmakers for making this budget particularly tight.

They say the state continues to slash the Local Government Fund. According to Rose, Richland County missed out on $5 million it should have received from the state this year alone.

Council members will meet tomorrow at 3 p.m. to discuss deputy and firefighter raises.

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