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Sheriff pushes for higher staff pay

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Edgecombe County Sheriff Clee Atkinson

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BY COREY DAVIS
Staff Writer

Friday, November 9, 2018

TARBORO — Edgecombe County Sheriff Clee Atkinson continues to lobby Edgecombe County commissioners about the need for his staff to receive higher pay.

Atkinson in May gave an impassioned plea for commissioners to approve raising salaries for his staff. He told commissioners then that his office has lost out to other agencies when it comes to recruitment and retention rates. Atkinson said starting pay for a county deputy is $30,488 per year — the lowest among law enforcement agencies in the Twin Counties.

Atkinson and some of his deputies appeared before commissioners this week to again voice their displeasure about staff salaries.

“What I’m trying to build here is quality and professional people and it’s hard to do it with the salaries the way they are,” Atkinson said. “The pay for Edgecombe County deputy sheriffs and staff compared to other counties is heartbreaking and makes it hard for me to sleep at night sometimes.”

Edgecombe County Detention Center Capt. Oliver Washington said detention officers are constantly having to deal with belligerent and disrespectful inmates. Detention officer Lt. Deborah Stokes, who has been with the Sheriff’s Office for nearly 29 years, said she unfortunately has seen a lot of good detention officers come and go because of the low salary.

“Sometimes it isn’t about the money but the job itself,” Stokes said. “However, the pay helps and you’ve got to have the heart to do what we do. I can understand why they’re walking out as they are because if you do read in some of the reports we have submitted we have stuff thrown at us on a daily basis. ... I invite and ask you to come walk a day in our shoes.”

Edgecombe County Commissioner Billy Wooten acknowledged that the board needs to do more for the Sheriff’s Office, and Chairman Leonard Wiggins said the board is willing to do anything that it can to work something out if the finances are there. Commissioner Wayne Hines said he gathered from Atkinson’s speech that the diffculity in maintaining qualified staff has become an issue because the Sheriff’s Office has become more of a training agency than a working agency.

“We’ve got some issues that need to be taken care now, and hopefully you (Atkinson) don’t think we’re just sitting here with no concern about the well-being of your staff,” Hines said. “I know pay has a lot to do with the quality of work that is being done. I hope we can work something out that will make a difference, so you don’t have to worry about how long you will keep a deputy officer. A trained and experienced law enforcement officer is one of the best gifts that can be used in a county or town. ... I heard you loud and clear and if these officers aren’t going get more pay, I don’t know how long they are going to stay.”

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