News13 Investigates: Horry County employee turnover

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WBTW) – gOV-jUSTICE-CENTEREmployee turnover is a problem companies and organizations face nationwide, but is the issue impacting public safety in Horry County?

Nearly 2,100 people work for Horry County, and according to county documents provided to News13, more than 1,000 of those employees are the men and women who work to keep you safe.

News13 received Horry County’s terminated and new hires reports through the Freedom of Information Act. Countywide as of April 15, 2015, more than 1,200 employees were listed on the terminated report since 2011. County officials explained those numbers include retirements, part-time or seasonal staff, temporary positions, consolidation, department transfers, voluntary and involuntary terminations. Nearly 850 were listed on the new hires report.

In 2014, Horry County employee turnover stood at 13.34%. That rate has hovered between 10.30% and 13.34% since 2011. Those numbers exclude temporary positions.

At J. Reuben Long Detention Center in Conway, Director Tom Fox says Detention is mandated by state statute minimum standards to staff posts at the facility. However, he says it’s hard to meet those standards because of his department’s high employee turnover. It’s a problem he calls “common” in his department, and one it has struggled with

“We’re always working short,” he explained. “We’ve been down as much as 40 people at one time this year. What that does is cause staffing shortages on the squads, so you have mandatory overtime, which causes morale problems.”

An Horry County employee turnover report reveals Detention had a 19% employee turnover rate in the 2014 calendar year. Fox says right now, he’s nearly 20 employees short. He says they’re leaving for other departments, promotions, different positions, more money or to retire – whether it’s in or out of Horry County.

We asked Fox how much it costs to hire, train and retain one of his officers.

“We value an employee within the first year — almost about $32,000 to hire them, train them and retain them,” he revealed. “We lost about 55 people this year since July 1. Multiply that figure and that’s a lot of money.”

Horry County Chief Saundra Rhodes says that figure is significantly higher in her department. She estimates the county spends $104,000 on new hires – between hiring, training and equipment. Rhodes says her department has lost 91 employees since 2011.

Still, she insists that turnover is low.

“For 2014 it was only 4 percent, but when we are short, it most certainly puts a strain on everyone. Our officers are dedicated and don’t complain when they do have to cover additional areas when they’re short.”

Rhodes hopes this budget year to add four new detectives to her team of approximately 255 employees. She says the new detectives would help lighten a heavy caseload already handled by her current investigators.

“Additional staff would allow us to provide additional services, and anything I can do to increase the services and decrease response time to go to calls of service, I would want to do so,” she said when asked if she could use more personnel in the department.

Two former county employees told News13 they decided to find new jobs for better pay and benefits. Both claimed their respective departments were short-staffed. Both later asked News13 not to air or publish their interviews.

News13 requested a current staffing vacancy report to see if the Detention Center, Horry County Police, Horry County Fire Rescue or the Horry County Sheriff’s Office were short staffed.

As of May 4, 2015, a county report received by News13 reveals the following positions need filled:

Horry County Police Department
8 Patrol Officers
1 Senior Detective
1 Desk Officer

Horry County Fire Rescue
25 Firefighter/EMTs (14 will begin work on May 18 and the next new-hire testing to fill the remaining vacancies begin at the end of May)
1 Training Officer
2 Battalion Chiefs
1 Trades Worker

15 Correction Officer Vacancies (23 officers hired in April. Testing to fill vacancies to begin in June)
1 Chief Investigator
1 Lieutenant
1 Administrative Assistant

Horry County Sheriff’s Office
1 Lieutenant
1 Deputy Sheriff
1 Court Security Officer

“I think we’re in good shape,” Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said, when asked about current staffing within the county. “We offer a good benefits package, good salaries here, good working conditions. If they are already in the budget to be funded, it’s just a matter of finding the right individual to hire to fill the positions.”

While both Fox and Rhodes say pay has been a sticking point in the past, Lazarus says a cost of living adjustment was not included in this year’s proposed budget. He says, however, there is a chance that could change.

“We have a lot of wants in our house, but we only have X amount of dollars coming in, so we have to find out from a county council level what are we willing to do to bring more revenues in?”

Lazarus mentioned to News13 it could mean millage increases, impact fees or other service fees if county council cannot find the necessary money.

“We’re trying to look for now is where can we find revenues in order to be able to give out some more raises [and] to be able to absorb – and continue to absorb – the ever increasing cost of health insurance,” Lazarus said.

County council is scheduled to discuss the proposed budget at the end of May, and changes could happen until the final budget is approved.

“Public safety officers jobs are very difficult – emotionally, financially. It really means a lot that they are recognized, not only by pay raises, but throughout the community,” Fox said.

News13 requested on-camera interviews with Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge, Horry County Fire Chief Fred Crosby and Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson. All declined our request.

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