CHEROKEE CO., S.C. (WSPA) – High stress and long hours for not enough pay. That’s how Cherokee County Sheriff Steve Mueller describes the current situation for his deputies as he asks for more money.
“Our men and women shouldn’t have to get out here and work two or three jobs just to make ends meet,” said Mueller.
County officials acknowledged most South Carolina counties face a similar problem but in a pitch to council Monday evening, Mueller said his department’s needs are serious.
Mueller said the number one function of government is public safety and he wants to make sure county council’s priorities for the year ahead have his officers at the top of the list.
Lt. Kenneth Sibley with the sheriff’s office told council a career in law enforcement is a calling.
“I’m not asking to get rich. I’m just asking to pay my bills,” Sibley said. “I find myself workin’ a lot of days, a lot of overtime, side jobs just to get by,” he continued.
Sibley’s part of a sheriff’s office where currently deputies make just over $16.50 an hour and corrections officers at the detention center take home $14.75 an hour.
Mueller said that’s low considering what other departments across the country are paying.
“Our pay has dropped below the lowest 10 percent in the country and so that is huge,” he said.
Mueller said out of 46 counties in South Carolina, Cherokee County is in the bottom 5 in officer’s pay.
He said a tax increase would not be needed to make an increase happen. He said the county’s budget has enough money to make it happen.
“This county has always been very frugal and basically hasn’t taken care of the employees over the years,” Mueller told 7 News outside council chambers.
Mueller is proposing an increase in pay that would bump deputies hourly rate to $19 and increase a corrections officer’s pay to $16.25 an hour.
He explained an increase would help on two fronts: recruiting officers and keeping them on staff.
“You can go to Spartanburg and make 6 or 7 thousand dollars more,” he said.
“We had five people that left our detention center over the last several months and all five took higher payin’ jobs,” said Mueller.
Councilman Mike Fowlkes said making sure law enforcement officers are paid fairly has been a struggle for a long time.
He said he understands the stress that comes along with a job in law enforcement since he did it for nearly 20 years.
That’s why he said he supports what the sheriff is proposing and council will begin to take a look at some hard numbers in the coming months.
“I think there is room in the budget to make the request happen,” he said.
That’s something Lt. Sibley said would help both at work and at home.
“I gotta look at my kids in the eye and tell them why I can’t be there for birthdays and school events because I’m workin’ another side job,” he said through tears in council chambers.