Taxes for some could increase to boost officer pay -, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Taxes for some could increase to boost officer pay

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By Karen Cohilas - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) – Taxpayers in unincorporated parts of Dougherty County could face a tax increase to help offset budget cuts to public safety.

Merit raises, and cost of living increases aren't likely for any county employees again this year, and furloughs may again be necessary.  Further budget cuts will be particularly hard for the Dougherty County Police Department where there's constant turnover that the chief attributes to low salaries.

This is something Chief Don Cheek has been talking about for several years now.  He's had people leave his department in droves, because he can't afford to pay them what they're worth.  Now that one of his officers was shot and killed while on duty, he hopes there is a willingness in the community to support those who serve us.

Everyday DCP officers hit the road to keep you safe.   It's something many of them have a passion for.  But that passion, may no longer be enough to keep them at the department.

Chief Don Cheek said, "I think the people we've had here love the work they do.  I've lost some extremely good officers that have just said, we've got to go where we can make enough money to support family."

Chief Cheek says a huge pay disparity has left his department short on experienced officers.  He said, "This is as large a gap as I can remember and I've been in the law enforcement community for 39 years."

A brand new officer starts at DCP at $12.70 an hour before they've been certified.  Just across town at the Albany Police Department, officers start closer to $16.  That's a difference of thousands of dollars a year. 

Dougherty Finance Chair Lamar Hudgins says it's time to change that.  He said, "I want to do what's right.  It's hard to say, well, these people deserve a raise and you don't, but however, these people put their lives on the line everyday.  Everyday when they leave home, you don't know if they're coming back."

And sometimes, sadly, they don't.  Lt. Cliff Rouse was gunned downed just days before Christmas.  Chief Cheek says the death of Lt. Rouse has made his officers question if what they are risking is worth the money.  He said, "It's going to impact decision making.  Am I doing the right thing?  Am I doing what's best for myself and my family and unfortunately, I've lost two officers this week."

Hudgins says he wants to keep experienced officers and pay them more than they currently make, even if it means raising taxes and upsetting other employees.  He said, "I don't mind the criticism as long as we are paying our police force what they should be making."

And while he's not sure exactly how much that is, he knows it's more than they make right now.  The special tax district--which is the unincorporated county, funds the police department.  A one mill increase would provide a five dollar an hour raise for 38 post certified officers.

It would also eliminate the need to furlough officers.  For taxpayers in the special tax district, a one mil increase would equate to about $40 a year for someone with a $100,000 home.

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