LaGRANGE — It’s no secret that most people don’t get rich in civil service, but for Troup County employees, that might be especially true.
On Tuesday, commissioners directed county staff to contract a survey examining how county salaries compare to other counties of similar size and demographics. County manager Tod Tentler said the survey would likely cost between $50,000 and $100,000 to conduct. He said the county is currently in talks with three firms for bids to conduct the survey.
Underpaid salaries have long been a complaint among county department heads, and recently Probate Judge Donald Boyd approached commissioners about raises for his employees.
It is true that the three employees in the probate office make hourly rates that are lower than counties of similar size. Jackson County, home to Jefferson and Commerce, has a population of about 60,500 people — about 8,000 less than Troup County. The three clerks in that probate office start out earning $11.64, according to records gathered by Boyd. The chief clerk in the Jackson County Probate Court earns $15.01 starting out.
By comparison, the chief clerk of the Troup County Probate Court starts out earning $13.07, and the two other administrative assistants start out earning $11.40. In Barrow County, with a population of about 70,000 people and home to Winder, the probate court’s administrative clerks start out at $13.78 and the chief clerk starts out earning $21.87.
The issue of underpaid salaries isn’t confined to the probate court. Troup County Sheriff James Woodruff has long bemoaned he’s unable to keep deputies and jailers on his staff because he can’t afford to pay them competitive rates.
A Troup County Sheriff’s deputy fresh out of law enforcement school hits the streets earning $14.06 hourly — that’s after a $1,000 raise each county employee received earlier this year. In Liberty County, with a population of 62,000, deputies start out making $16.56 per hour. In Jackson County, deputies earn $15.26 hourly.
Deputies working for the Troup County Sheriff’s Office are among the lowest paid law enforcement officers in the county. The West Point Police Department starts their officers out at $14.59 and LaGrange police officers come out of the academy earning $19.65 per hour. Hogansville trails with $13.50 hourly, according to records from Troup County and the sheriff’s office.
The pay is even more dismal for jailers, who in Troup County in 2015 started out earning $11.40 per hour. That’s before the $1,000 raise. In Liberty, jailers earn $15, and in Spalding County, home to Griffin, jailers earn $13.87.
Spalding County does pay for its higher hourly rates, though. The property tax millage rate for the county, excluding school board taxes, is 19.59. In Troup, it’s 11.31, not counting school board taxes.
Compensation is about more than just hourly pay, though. Insurance is a major factor, Tentler said. County employees who have a family health insurance plan pay $97.17 biweekly. By comparison, city of LaGrange employees pay about $270 biweekly, according to Meg Kelsey, city manager. City health insurance premiums can come down, though. The city offers credits in the amount of $20 for certain healthy choices, like being a nonsmoker. Employees can earn up to five credits, bringing their biweekly health insurance cost to $170.
“Basically, we’re rich in benefits, but the pay is a little below average,” Tentler said.
The last compensation study conducted by the county was completed in May of 2003, but never implemented. Tentler, who was not county manager at the time, said he thought the reason it wasn’t implemented was because it was cost-prohibitive.
The compensation study is expected to take between three to six months to complete, Tentler said. Following its completion, it will be presented to commissioners for review.
Tyler H. Jones is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. He can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.