County law officers seek  pay raise
Police association attorney says survey found HCSO lags other agencies 2%-29%
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

May 31, 2006 -- Hopkins County commissioners, expecting to have a routine workshop meeting Tuesday afternoon, had to move into the first-floor courtroom to meet with more than 20 members of Hopkins County Law Enforcement Association seeking more pay and an attorney from the Texas Municipal Police Association.

For commissioners Don Patterson and Beth Wisenbaker and Judge Cletis Millsap, the meeting may have brought back memories from 1999 when a similar group met with commissioners seeking an appreciable pay increase to bring county officers more in line with other counties and agencies of similar size.

Dallas attorney Lance Wyatt, representing the Texas Municipal Police Association, said the association had been asked to come and talk to members of the sheriff's office about concerns they have with regard to pay and compensation.

Wyatt said TMPA compared the pay or compensation from Hopkins County Sheriffs Office with five different sheriff's offices in this general vicinity, The Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Department of Criminal Justice and five different police departments.

The survey was done by rank, including deputies, investigators, sergeants, lieutenants, chief deputies and assistant chiefs. They have also looked at jailers and dispatchers.

"Depending upon the rank and your tenure in Hopkins County Sheriff’s [Office], you are looking at somewhere between 2 percent and 29 percent less compensation than you would receive at some of these other surrounding departments," Wyatt said.

Hopkins County's 2006 annual budget listed the annual salary for a basic deputy at $27,319, to $34,033 for sergeant, to a high of $38,317 for an investigator. Starting pay for a communications dispatcher, according to the budget, is $20,157, and for jailers $19,669.

"We are coming to the table today asking you all to consider the labor market's supply and demand situation," Wyatt said. "These employees are asking you to consider what is surrounding you and understand that they are being compensated significantly less, ... whether it be jailers or dispatchers or deputies or investigators."

Along with jail personnel, the communications division has also lost employees to other departments. In one instance, an officer was pulled from night patrol duty into dispatch, resulting in extra work for officers on the night shift.

Sheriff's office employees said the annual cost of living pay increases each year were only enough to put them into a different tax bracket and was more than offset by health insurance costs.

The TMPA attorney said the county has a total of 22 deputies and 35 jailers that have left the sheriff's office since the last referendum in 1999.

"One has gone into the military," Wyatt said. "One went to work as a legal secretary, one to the Department of Public Safety, one to Titus County and some have gone to jobs outside of law enforcement such as truck drivers, working as a maintenance worker, or went to the dairy business."

Wyatt told commissioners the survey found that a pay increase in Delta County of $1,200 to $1,400 across the board was given to sheriff's officers in that county. 

The increase in Delta County became effective with the current budget and raised the pay for deputies from $17,900 a year to $19,000, according to Delta County Judge Hugh Whitney, who said his county was at the bottom, salary-wise, in the state before the pay increase was instituted last year.

Commissioner Beth Wisenbaker said she was "a little curious" if there was any way Hopkins County could handle the pay question in two issues.

"Is there a way that we could address one section this budget year and another section another budget year?" she asked. "Or do we need to do it all at one time?"

Wyatt responded by saying he felt the group would be more in favor of dealing with the pay issue all at one time.

"It is my understanding that they want this repaired now," he said. "For half of it to be split out and taken care of this year and half it it next year. I don't think that could happen.

"Maybe, if somebody came to us and said this is what we are going to do or think we are maybe going to do, that might cause them to pause," Wyatt continued. "At this point, I think the answer is probably no."

HCLEA spokesman Lewis Tatum, an investigator for the sheriff's office, said the main reason for asking for the pay hike was to both maintain and retain professionalism in the department.

"I think that we provide a service for the county in a professional manner and I do feel like we do as good a job as any department around here and I do realize y'all are in a budget crunch in trying to fund us," Tatum said to commissioners. "For instance, my job, I've considered options and looked at maybe going somewhere else, but this is my home where I've raised my kids."

Tatum told commissioners that an investigator for Sulphur Springs Police Department makes a minimum of $6,000 a year more than he does.

"The last thing we want to do is go into a referendum," Tatum told commissioners. "I would appreciate if y'all could sincerely try to help us."

HCLEA members indicated their group was ready to petition for a referendum that would give voters the last word in a pay hike, thought to be between 20 and 22 percent. 

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