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Wilson County Sheriff Calvin Woodard went before county commissioners Monday to discuss raising the base pay for the three lowest sworn ranking personnel.
“I’m asking the county commissioners to again look into this so that we can definitely retain our men and women,” Woodard said. “Because again, it’s all about quality law enforcement.”
Woodard said a pay increase is vital to allow the sheriff’s office to compete with other agencies. He proposed an increase for three law enforcement levels within the office — deputy I, deputy II and detective.
An entry-level sheriff’s deputy currently earns $34,044. Woodard proposed increasing that base pay to $37,500. The base pay for a deputy II position, also known as a corporal, comes in at $35,700. He wants to increase that to $39,420.
For detectives, Woodard wants to hike the current $39,420 base pay to $41,388.
The sheriff’s office has 165 employees, 69 of whom would benefit from the potential base pay increase, he said. Out of that 69, it would affect 49 deputy I positions, eight deputy II positions and 12 detectives, he said.
“To spend all that money on training and to just lose them because of a salary ... to me it’s just not good at all,” he said.
Out of the current 165 staff members, Woodard said the sheriff’s office has only five open sworn deputy positions and five open detention officer positions.
Commissioner Chris Hill asked Woodard if he had looked into the total dollar amount for that increase in pay. Woodard estimated it would be roughly $81,635 per year for the increase in those positions.
Vice Chairman Rob Boyette recommended commissioners send the sheriff’s proposal to the personnel committee and for that panel to report back to the full board in the near future.
Commissioners will move to the next phase in seeking financing for the VIPER communications system, which includes 800 megahertz radios for deputies. Woodard had requested that during this year’s budget, which commissioners approved. The cost is estimated at roughly $1 million and will include the radios, console upgrades and other equipment.
Woodard thanked commissioners for their consideration.
It’s really going to help us out a lot,” he said, adding it will not only boost communication with other agencies, but will be valuable in crisis situations and help deputies who may be in the outskirts of the county while radioing for assistance.
The system will help deputies communicate with other law enforcement agencies directly instead of going through 911 operators to do so. There are spots in the county where deputies can’t receive signals.
Woodard said he would offset the total cost by applying for Governor’s Crime Commission grants. He told commissioners that the company his office is purchasing the equipment from has offered a discount of $175,000 for the office’s old radios. He said there is also a strong possibility his agency can keep those older radios.
“We can utilize those radios and pass them down to the detention center,” he said. “We are able to fix two issues in one. We are still able to come out good in the end.”
Woodard said he hopes to get nearly $300,000 in savings.
The VIPER system is managed by the N.C. State Highway Patrol under the N.C. Department of Public Safety and serves all emergency responders, according to the state.
The county will essentially be buying the infrastructure so that the sheriff’s office will be able to communicate at the local, state and federal levels.
“It’s all about working together and communication,” Woodard said.
Commissioner Chris Hill asked if this was the technology that law enforcement is moving toward. Woodard said it’s a system that everyone is moving toward. He said he spoke with a sheriff in another county who had spent more than $1 million purchasing his own system but then went to the VIPER system because the other wasn’t as strong. Woodard said once the county purchases the system, software updates as well as other issues would be paid for by the state Department of Public Safety.
“This saves the county from having to pay any bills if the system goes down,” he said. “They (the state) would have to fix it.”
The maintenance is also free through the life of the system.
County commissioners also passed a resolution Monday celebrating the life and legacy of Howard Jones, founder of the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Wilson.
Jones, 84, died a week ago. The resolution also acknowledged his strong commitment to working with government in making Wilson a better place and helping OIC clients get jobs and become taxpayers.