CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Six months ago, News13 ‘s Taylor Herlong sat down with the new Horry County Public Safety Administrator, Joe Huffman, and he made promises to look at problems facing several public safety departments in the county.
Huffman said he knew what he was getting into as he walked in departments facing several vacancies, low morale, and problems with retention.
Six months later, Huffman says Emergency 911 and police are almost fully staffed, but they’re still working on a few things.
“Pay is always going to be an issue. I think that it’s really a balance. You’ve got the tax burden on the citizens versus what you’re trying to invest in programs. So, it’s very difficult,” said Huffman.
Wednesday, Horry County leaders revealed one of their major plans to solve those problems. They plan to use more than $1 million in road fund money to pay police officers more money and to reimburse them if they chose to go back to school.
“If you go and increase your education certain parameters, then we’ll reimburse you for that, and at the same time, we’ll give you a raise in salary. If there’s officers out there that already have certain degrees, we’ll go ahead and raise their salaries now if they want to further their education maybe to get a masters or something of that nature. They go and pay for it and then once they complete those studies, we’ll reimburse them,” said Council Chair Mark Lazarus.
Earlier this year, the Horry County Police Chief was publicly criticized in a council meeting after an interview with News13 when he said Horry County Police officers need more money.
We asked Lazarus then if police would get more money. He said they had already been given raises in the past, but after consistent retention problems, that changed.
“What we want to do is be able to pay our public safety people more money and base it off of education, experience, and those types of things,” said Lazarus.
If approved, the money to pay police officers would come out of the county’s general fund.
Horry County Fire Rescue has had similar problems with retention, but council member Al Allen says that department is funded differently.
“Horry County Fire Rescue is maintained by the fire fund millage, which is separate from the general fund, and we just raised it three years ago by six mills. So, they’re in pretty good shape, and we changed the pay raises to a merritt-based system, which can go as high as 3.5% right now depending on an employee’s evaluation. We may look at raising that in the future,” said Allen.
Huffman says pay for fire rescue employees is something he’s looking at in the next six months, and he plans to address any shortcomings.
“There are some old pay plans that were in place that we’re trying to address. Salaries, we’re going back and looking at those. They’re already in place. They’ve been in place for a couple of years. So, we’re going to go back and look at those and see how effective they’ve been and see if we can make some improvements and make some changes if needed,” said Huffman.
Huffman says they’re also looking to eliminate swing shifts for emergency 911 and police so that they work set hours to help with morale.
He says they’ll evaluate how that plan works and look at ways to bring on and keep more paramedics in the coming months.
The plan to use road money to pay for police salaries and continuing education is still preliminary and will have to be voted on my council during their spring budget retreat.