“My No. 1 priority for this agency is to try to get an initial stage of a merit-pay plan in effect, and raise the salaries of some of our deputies and correctional officers ... based on job performance,” Ruth said.
Ruth said he would also like to update the career-service plan the department uses.
The sheriff presented a merit-based, step-pay plan to the Bradley County Commission last year during the budget hearings, but it was not approved.
“I understand you all would have to ratify this career-step plan and then send it to Nashville, for them to do it ... it probably won’t get done this year even if you ratify this. That being said I would still like you to consider doing it,” Ruth said.
Committee member Jeff Yarber said he voted against the plan last year, because he was opposed to implementing it without having the funds for future steps. This predicament has not changed, according to Yarber.
“I’m not against this program. I think it’s a program that has merit and can benefit (BCSO) to have it; but I’m also a realist,” committee member Terry Caywood said. “In my opinion, there are some more pressing issues.”
He mentioned the needs of the Bradley County Schools as one.
A high turnover rate is a motivation toward implementing a career-step plan.
According to the sheriff, the office has lost 53 deputies and 79 corrections officers within the past five years. These numbers do not include any terminations.
“In law enforcement, it takes around four or five years to make a good deputy. One who knows ... how to treat people good and yet do his job and be effective out there on the street— by the time you create someone like that [but then] turn around and lose them — it’s a real problem,” Ruth said.
He said it sometimes takes up to six months to find a replacement.
Caywood asked the Sheriff’s Office to provide the turnover rate figures for the past two years, since Ruth was not sheriff before that time.
Exit interviews have been conducted with some, but not all, employees who have left.
“I’ve talked with the county personnel office. They would be very interested in doing exit interviews, so they can document why someone is leaving,” committee member Ed Elkins said.
Maj. Jim Hodgson said this offer had never been made to the Sheriff’s Office, but it would accept it.
Elkins said he would send an e-mail to the office “to formalize an exit-interview program.”
Committee member Mark Hall suggested bringing the plan to the entire Commission.
Committee chairman Brian Smith said there was no point in the issue coming to a work session if the funding is not available. No member offered a motion for a recommendation to the Commission.
Elkins asked about pay increases that had been given as part of the office’s streamlined into three bureaus.
Ruth said funding for vacant positions was used to pay for the increases in pay.
Elkins asked how these positions would be paid for if they needed to be filled. He said it seemed those who were higher paid had gotten raises, not the lower-ranked employees with high turnover rates.
“We have done what we thought was right and what we thought we needed to do at the time. And really taken your suggestion [on] solving all our problems with attrition,” Ruth said.
Chief Deputy Wayne Bird said the bureaus have unified and consolidated the department.
“If you take the amount of money that was through attrition, we could have probably given a raise of $40 to $50 per deputy; but we felt like it was a priority to streamline what we had, and make sure everything was in the same direction,” Bird explained.
Bird also mentioned a pay disparity between the city and county law enforcement agencies.