Denton County sheriff’s officials are hopeful county commissioners will start to listen to the results of three recent studies regarding employee pay.
Sheriff’s employees are behind, and the department is losing employees to better paying jobs in area cities, according to data from the 2009 Evergreen study, a 2013 county sheriff’s office compensation survey and a 2013 county human resources department compensation survey.
Sheriff’s officials presented those results to commissioners Tuesday as many sheriff’s employees filled the gallery.
Chief Deputy Rex George’s salary presentation contained data comparing Denton County to 17 area agencies, including sheriff’s offices in Collin, Tarrant and Dallas counties and police departments in Denton, Plano, Lewisville, Flower Mound, McKinney and others. In all cases, the county was below the market value of the minimum salary for a number of department positions.
For example, in the sheriff’s salary study, Denton County detention officers started with 9 percent lower salaries than the average, and patrol deputies started 16 percent lower. Lieutenants were 38 percent lower than the average, according to the study.
George told commissioners that many are aware of the pay problems the county faces.
He recalled in 2009 when former Chief Deputy Lee Howell and Sheriff Benny Parkey came before commissioners to talk about the same issue. George said the response to their presentation was the economy was bad at the time.
“And it still is,” Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell said.
George disagreed, saying the county was working its way out of the economic problems.
“We think now is the time to address it,” George said. “We’re in a hole now; we’re in a deeper hole than we were in 2009. And we continue to dig ourselves a deeper hole.”
George said there were strategies he thought the county could employ to start working on the problem.
“It may take two or three years to do it, but I think it can be done,” he said.
George said the county should place law enforcement employees on a separate pay scale and step program, bringing all the employees up to market-minimum salaries. Those pay plans should be adjusted every two years, he said.
Also, George said the county should immediately increase the cost-of-living factors it uses to plan its salary structures. It should also adjust its salaries to fit the market.
Then over a three-year period, the county should address other issues related to pay equity, George said.
Mitchell and other commissioners said they can’t consider only the sheriff’s office employees when discussing salaries.
“Denton County would not work unless we have all the employees working together,” Mitchell said. “When we talk about raises for the sheriff’s department, we have to talk about raises for all departments.”
Commissioners are already considering a 3 percent raise for all county employees in the recommended budget for the 2014 fiscal year.
In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Sheriff William Travis said about four months was spent in order to prepare the salary report.
“While about 90 percent was prepared by Rex George, I helped out where I could and finalized everything,” Travis said.
Travis said the importance of the report was to let everyone know how underpaid his employees are compared to other area law enforcement agencies.
“It’s important that we retain our employees,” he said. “Most get their training here and then leave for better paying jobs ... we need to make sure they continue to stay on board with us.”
The request for salary increases comes at the same time an additional 50 employees are needed to staff the new jail expansion that’s expected to open in August 2014.
Donna Stewart, the county’s budget director, said the costs associated with the jail would increase the sheriff’s office’s overall 2013-14 recommended budget by $4.1 million. Of the $4.1 million proposed for the new facility, $3.1 million is to cover the requested hires and their benefit packages, Stewart said in a recent interview. The remaining balance is slated for jail maintenance and operation costs.
Travis said County Judge Mary Horn and all the commissioners were very understanding of the sheriff’s employees’ needs and that he would ask for raises for his deputies every year until they were paid what they are worth.
Commissioner Hugh Coleman, whose precinct is made up of a lot of the unincorporated parts of the county, said he truly appreciates the services rendered to his constituents by the sheriff’s department.
“However, we need to make sure we treat all of our employees the same and make sure that they are adequately compensated to the point they are able to have good morale and perform in a positive manner,” Coleman said.
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.