Last Updated on June 9, 2012 10:27 am
Open letter to the Citizens of Avery County
As your elected Sheriff, I feel I must present my opinion as to what the proposed budget will mean to the Avery County Sheriff’s Office. I write this not out of anger or spite, but I feel it is important and imperative to citizens to know how this budget will affect the safety, security and services offered by you sheriff’s office. I also want the people of Avery Count to know, even in the darkest hour, we will continue to stand in the gap and protect our citizens to the very best of our ability. We are hurt and disappointed, but our commitment to the citizens to do what is right will never waiver or falter. We all took an oath and we take that oath very seriously. We all stand united in our resolve to do our very best with what resources we have to fight crime, provide services and protect our citizens. Our job had just been made more difficult, but we will stand up to the challenge and do all we can. I realize this is rather long, but it is important and as citizens you should know what this will mean.
1. We are losing a deputy position. This position has been paid for from a grant for the last three years. This grant paid 85% of a vehicle, equipment, uniforms and salary for the first year, 70 % of his uniforms and salary for the second year and 50% for the third year. The agreement when we got this grant was the county would fully fund the position for the fourth year. This not only takes a much needed deputy of the road, by jeopardizes our chances for getting grants from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program in the future. This grant has saved the citizens of Aver County over $85,000.00 over the past three years. To put it in perspective, over 20 years ago the sheriff’s office had two deputies on day shift, one deputy on a split and two deputies on night shift. I believe it is important to have two deputies on the split shift in order to answer our call volume and provide services within a reasonable response time. In that same 20 years counting this position we have added two deputies and more than tripled the number of calls either dispatched or initiated. This position gave us the two split shift deputies on each sergeant’s shift. To not have it will increase response; decrease our flexibility in training, court, vacation and sick time. It also means our small communities in which this position has worked to slow down speeding and other driving offenses will not have that available anymore. I applied for and received this grant because I was getting so many complaints from communities like Crossnore, Roaring Creek, Ingalls, and others about speeding and other driving offenses. This position has also worked to help educate our youth about the dangers of drinking and driving texting and driving and driving safety. It is impossible to say what impact this position has had, or if it has saved lives, I believe it is very possible it has done both.
2. Second, in the matter of pay deputies, what would be a fair wage to pay deputies who risk their lives every day in the protection of citizens and their property? I may have a different opinion than another citizen, so the only fair and equitable way to settle this is an impartial study. In 2010, Avery County paid $17,000.00 to a very reputable firm, The MAPS group, to conduct this study. The study showed many of Avery County’s employees were not being paid comparable pay to counties like Avery. This included nearly all of the Sheriff’s office. The county was so far behind, it was decided to put this into place in phases. Phase one was done last year, this year there is no phase two. No deputy sheriff will receive a raise or cost of living adjustment for three years if this budget currently stands. Avery County has been blessed in we have had new construction to raise the overall valuation of the land, but that has stopped. No one knows when or if we will see a development boom like we have had just a few short years ago. I say that because it was said “We can’t raise taxes and give raises”. Maybe I have more faith in the people of Avery County, but if you have to raise taxes to meet needs, isn’t paying a fair wage a need. If we are waiting until property valuations rise again, no employee may ever get a raise in the foreseeable years to come. In addition, no salary has ever been paid in any county without it coming from tax money. Now, there is not a single deputy who has delusions about becoming wealthy being a deputy sheriff in Avery County, but it is very demoralizing to see other law enforcement agencies all around us make more money, answer fewer calls and make less arrest per officer. Just last week a young lady who myself and some of my deputies taught in Basic Law Enforcement Training, got a job in law enforcement nearby paying over $10,000.00 more than she would if she wanted to work at the Avery County Sheriff’s Office. We want our children to go into fields like law enforcement, so they can stay in our county, and our children often want to stay near their families, but we have to be competitive with other counties for this to happen.
Below is a chart with the only counties in the state who pay their Sheriff’s Office less than Avery County.
County Sheriff Salary Deputy Salary (start) Population Valuation in Millions
Avery $55,652.00 $27,820.00 17,700 4,371
Alleghany $ 48,313.00 $25,120.00 11,244 1,773
Clay $50,589.00 $29,164.00 10,587 1,944
Greene $54,000.00 $28,412.00 21,000 1,020
Jones $48,817.00 $28,486.00 10,831 751
Tyrrell $46,817.00 $30,303.00 4,407 639
Swain $42,277.00 $29,827.00 13,000 1,298
Below is a chart of surrounding counties information
Mitchell $57,987.00 $28,711.00 16,877 1,243
Burke $68,140.00 $29,630.00 89,000 6,005
McDowell $59,640.00 $36,738.00 43,000 3,409
Watauga $77,953.00 $31,048.00 no data no data
Yancey $61,360.00 $26,034.00 17,818 2,418
Ashe $76,350.00 $31,701.00 27,281 4,049
All of the employees of the Avery County Sheriff’s Office will continue to work hard, even being some of the lowest paid Sheriff’s Offices in the state because we take our role of public servitude as an honor. We vow to stand in the gap, and protect our citizens from those who wish us harm. We have been blessed in the past with really good insurance, but now we have had to cut that until it is jut average to other agencies, to try to balance the budget. In the past this good insurance has partially made up for lower salaries, but now that too is gone, we are going backwards, not moving forwards. In all of these smaller counties, the Sheriff and his deputies were the highest paid law enforcement in the county. This cannot be said in Avery County where the Sheriff and my deputies are 3rd in Avery County in pay for law enforcement. I know our commissioners have a very difficult job, and sometimes it seems there is no good solution, but recruiting and retaining good employees is just important to the success of any company or business as the buildings those employees occupy. Sam Walton the founder of Wal-Mart knew this. Walton would go around before opening a store and see what the competitive salary was, and pay just a little more, then he would offer stock options so the employees knew their efforts could make a difference. Walton also during the toughest economic time offered more services to people, he did not cut services, because he knew if he could get them as a loyal customer, they would continue to be happy with his company. We should not be cutting needed services, or treating employees as if they are expendable products. No business model has succeeded with this type of business plan. Just so there is no mistake or allegations, I will not take any salary increase until all of my deputies get what they need.
3. Finally in the matter of vehicles and equipment. Over 20 years ago, the Avery County Sheriff’s Office was on a vehicle replacement plan. The county would replace 4 vehicles per year to keep those patrol vehicles at or under 100,000 miles. Study after study has been done and this has been proven to be the point emergency response patrol vehicles become dangerous for both the driver and the public. We currently have 6 active patrol cars with over 100,000 miles and will have an additional 6 vehicles next year. Each year I make a 5 year projection on mileage and only ask for replacements for those vehicles reaching the 100,000 mile threshold. Each year we receive about 3 vehicles which has put us in not only a situation where at some point the county will have to buy a bunch of vehicles at one time, but also endangers the deputies and the public. In the matter of safety, I also put in for the past two years a plan to provide our deputies with computers in their vehicles which would accomplish three very significant goals. First it would be connected by air-card to our dispatch and server and would show exact address as a map on the computer screen to help deputies to complete reports more quickly making us more efficient and productive. Third and most importantly to me, it would allow me to have a computer record of everywhere a deputy has been, how fast the vehicle was moving, and how long a deputy sits and does not patrol. One complaint I occasionally get is about a patrol car going too fast, this will give me the concrete evidence I need to either confirm or dismiss the complaint, and if valid I can hold my people accountable. To be a professional law enforcement agency, I believe being held accountable is essential and provides confidence to our citizens in their Sheriff’s Office. A 2010 study shows 80% of all Sheriff’s Offices across the nation now have this capability, and a couple of police departments here in Avery County have similar programs and computers in patrol vehicles. We will do what we have to do, but we want the citizens to know we are trying to advance, we are trying to move forward, and we are trying to continue to be a professional agency, but we cannot go forward without the commissioners having the same vision as we do.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize, I am not picking a fight with our county commissioners, in fact I want to thank Martha Hicks and Phyllis Forbes for trying to put forth these issues, but I feel I have a duty and obligation to inform our citizens of the impact of this budget concerning their safety and security. We, as the Avery County Sheriff’s Office, have a vision and a mission to provide the best and most professional services to our citizens. We make mistakes, we mess things up, just like any person or business, but we are committed to doing our best every day. We desperately need the people, the pay and the equipment to make our vision more of a reality. The commissioners are facing some very tough decisions and choices and they need our prayers. Some of our local fire department’s buildings are in terrible condition, some of the fire equipment is old and antiquated and needs replaced, the Sheriff’s Office is not the only department in need, there are some real and severe needs which the commissioners are trying to address. Though I disagree with their decision, I know it was not made with malice. As a conservative however I know it is often less expensive in the long run to fix a problem, than to put it off until a later day. Trimming the “fat” from a budget is a job the county manager and finance officer do each year, and they do it exceptionally well in Avery County. I know the commissioners have a very difficult and thankless job, but they have to trust their supervisory staff, their fire commission and the Sheriff to tell them what is needed to provide services, not what is wanted, or what we wish for, but what is definitely needed, if our needs are not justified, I understand the cuts, but when our needs, fire, rescue and sheriff, are justified it is important to our citizens for us to be able to meet those needs. I don’t ask for new cars because they look pretty or make me look good, the fire department doesn’t want new trucks and equipment for parades, it is a need to provide the services and response to the citizens we serve. We serve the people of Avery County proudly and we will continue to do so. This budget is not final until the commissioners vote on June 18th at 4:00pm at their business meeting. In the end two very important verses keep coming to my mind. 1) Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish” and 2) John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”.