The front-page article in The Sumter Item on Nov. 14 titled "Sumter deputies ask for pay increase" has raised questions in the Sumter community. Sheriff Anthony Dennis mailed a letter in October to each member of Sumter County Council. This letter was the result of a recent article published by WIS News. The article reported on the status of law enforcement in 300 cities, and Sumter ranked as one of the worst cities for salaries paid to our deputies.
Sheriff Dennis said, "I am disappointed and embarrassed that Sumter is presented this way." Conversely, he sent his letter to once again advocate on behalf of county deputies and detention center officers for a salary increase.
As a retired military veteran and retired state constable, I can relate to the responsibilities and dangers our men and women in uniform (deputies, detention officers, firefighters and EMT personnel) face each day. When I encouraged my colleagues to act now, instead of waiting seven months until our next budget cycle, it's because I have experiences they don't have.
Based on comments made at our last county council meeting on Nov. 12, coupled with the fiscal status of the Sumter School District, people have asked me if Sumter County is broke. During my tenure as chairman, Sumter County was at its strongest financial point in years (Reference The Sumter Item article dated Sept. 13, 2012, titled: County's finances show $1M surplus). During this period, the county also received its highest credit rating ever. Today, Sumter County still has excess funds in its reserve account. Therefore, unequivocally, the county is not broke.
The question is, "How long are we going to ignore the requests from workers in our county who are not adequately paid for the demanding services they provide?" The actions of the Sumter School District bus drivers should be a teachable moment. The detention center is dangerously understaffed and overworked. Seventy percent of the staff are females who are verbally abused, threatened and attacked, often with inmate bodily fluids.
With the drastic increase in murders and violence in Sumter, we must act now.
EUGENE R. BATEN
Sumter County Council
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