Russell County Jailer Bobby Dunbar made a plea to Russell County magistrates during Monday’s fiscal court meeting, but Dunbar’s request wasn’t granted, a move that left the jailer visibly disappointed.
Dunbar made a request to the court to have pay increased for seven employees at the jail. The request, which Dunbar said was critical, came from an oversight error earlier in the year when magistrates voted to increase starting pay for jail employees to $12/hour in an attempt to be more competitive for workers.
When that was voted on in April, it did not include a handful of employees at the jail who were already trained with experience working in the facility who are making between $11 and $11.50 per hour.
Dunbar said these jail employees have been there for a while, and he didn’t feel it was right that they were training employees who would start out making more money than them.
Ultimately, Magistrate Terry Waddell made the motion to accept Dunbar’s request, but the motion died after no other magistrate opted to second the motion, causing it to die and Dunbar’s request to be effectively denied.
Dunbar said staffing has been, and continues to be, a critical issue at the jail, and told the magistrates he worried not increasing the pay for those employees could contribute to already significant staffing shortages.
“I feel like what I’m asking for is not too much,” Dunbar told the magistrates. “I firmly believe I can bring my part of the revenue in. I can justify my part if you can justify your part. Guys, I need this. We need this. I’m to the point of pleading with you.”
Dunbar pleaded with the magistrates for nearly an hour, while also answering questions about staffing concerns.
Magistrate Mickey Garner brought up the issue that there are other county employees making less than $12/hour and raising the pay for jail employees could cause issues with employees in other departments, and there would be a price tag of around $60,000 to raise the pay all around.
Dunbar said he felt that with legislation raising the amount the jail receives for housing state inmates and other revenue-producing programs at the jail, he could make enough to cover the increased cost for jail employees if the county could cover the cost of raises for other county employees.
County Treasurer Kim Fenske said the county would have the ability to cover the cost of the raises for a year, but said fluctuations in cost of budgetary items made it hard to say with certainty that the county could take on that cost in years to come.
Judge Executive Gary Robertson told the magistrates his opinion was the county should try it for a year and go from there, but noted it was ultimately a decision left to the magistrates.
Dunbar told the court that the staffing issues the jail has faced recently is among the biggest challenges he’s faced in his time as Russell County jailer, and expressed concern that this could deepen that issue even more.