A Letter from Sheriff Mike Fraley

I have been receiving a lot of questions regarding the proposed pay raises for the employees of the Carter County Sheriff’s Office, so I want to share with you some important information about what the need is and how we got to this point.
This is not a problem that happened overnight, it took years to reach this critical stage, but we have reached a point where something must be done. For decades, the wages at the Sheriff’s Office have remained largely stagnant. While there have been some pay increases here and there, wages in the department did not keep up with inflation, and they did not keep up with pay for our surrounding neighbor agencies. As years went by without pay increases, these neighboring agencies that we compete with for employees began to greatly outpace us in what they were able to offer. The result is the Carter County Sheriff’s Office can no longer hope to compete with the pay offered by neighboring agencies.
The current starting pay for a new deputy is $13.80 per hour and the starting pay for a new corrections officer is $13.47 per hour. The Elizabethton Police Department’s starting pay for an officer is $17.12. Unicoi County starts at $16 for a non-certified deputy and $18 for a certified deputy. Hawkins County starts at $16.37. Sullivan County starts at $17.64. Washington County starts at $18.40, and Greene County starts at $19.44. Wages on the corrections side are the same, with Carter County providing a starting pay significantly lower than our neighboring agencies.
We simply cannot recruit enough employees to fill our ranks. Experienced law enforcement officers will look to these other agencies as they can provide better pay. Over the years we have recruited new officers only to see them leave for greener pastures once they have received their training and a little experience. The Carter County Sheriff’s Office has become a training ground for other law enforcement agencies.
We reached critical staffing levels earlier this year. When school started this fall, only 4 of the county’s 15 schools had School Resource Officers. The staffing of the Carter County Detention Center was so low that patrol officers were having to cover shifts in the jail to keep the jail operating. The staffing is so far below standard for the jail that the county’s certification with the Tennessee Corrections Institute hangs in the balance. Following a jail inspection in July and a re-inspection in September, our jail was recommended for decertification. Losing the certification for our jail could potentially cost our county millions of dollars.
Again, this is not a problem that happened overnight. This issue has stretched across multiple administrations of the Carter County Sheriff’s Office and multiple terms of the Carter County Commission. For years, the issue was brushed to the side and the decision was made to “kick the can down the road.” Well, the time for kicking the can has ended. We are in a critical situation that needs immediate attention.
As a community, we expect a lot from our law enforcement professionals. When someone is breaking into our home, we want to be able to call 911 and have an officer come to our rescue. We want the criminal arrested and locked away to protect others and prevent the criminal from harming someone else. When there is danger, we want someone who will run toward the danger instead of away from it. Those who put on the badge go to work every day knowing that today may be the day they lay down their life for their community. In exchange for that service and dedication, do we as a community not owe them at least a livable wage so they can take care of their own families the way they take care of our community?
Currently, the wages at the Carter County Sheriff’s Office have some of our officers living in poverty. Some qualify for government assistance such as food stamps. Officers often have to make the difficult choice between paying for a child’s medical bill or paying rent for their home. Officers are working second, and sometimes even third, jobs, just to make ends meet for their family.
For everything they do for our community, do we not owe them better than that? As a citizen, are you not willing to pay a little bit more in taxes to ensure that our community is made safer by our law enforcement officers, that our schools are protected, that we have a jail where we can hold those who have committed crimes to prevent more crimes from happening?
As the sheriff you elected to serve you, I humbly ask that you support my department in our effort to secure livable wages for the officers who serve you. On Monday, November 21, the Carter County Commission will meet at 6 p.m. and one of the items on the agenda will be raises for the Sheriff’s Department employees. I urge you to reach out to your commissioners and voice your support for livable wages for officers. You may also address the entire commission yourself during the public comments portion of this meeting.
Help me recruit and retain the officers I need to fulfill my duties to you as sheriff.