HCSO officers, county leaders settle pay dispute

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

July 18, 2008 - A pay referendum is no longer being sought for sheriff's employees, thanks to an agreement reached Thursday between Hopkins County Commissioners Court and Hopkins County Law Enforcement Association.

"We don't see a need for a referendum because the Commissioners Court and law enforcement association were able to resolve issues," Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap said Friday morning.

"We want to thank the Commissioners Court for working with us to give a raise to sheriff's employees, as well as some other employee benefits, which will be especially beneficial during these hard times," HCLEA President Lewis Tatum said Friday morning.

The association announced in June they would start a petition drive to call for an election to decide pay raises for sheriff's office employees.

"The law enforcement association's goal in seeking signatures was to attain the best level of professionalism at the sheriff's office we can in order to continue to offer quality service and protection to the citizens of Hopkins County," Tatum said. "We believe we have reached an agreement with the Commissioners Court that will be both beneficial to the employees of Hopkins County Sheriff's Office as well as the citizens."

While all of the details have yet to be ironed out, the Commissioners Court on Thursday offered a 5 percent increase to sheriff's officers. The pay hike could be across the board for all sheriff's employees, but that likely will be left to the discretion of the sheriff. Other issues such as personnel and policy changes are still to be worked out, as well.

One such change to be hammered out would be benefits tied to education, which would mean that for each varied level of certification, from basic peace officer through master officer, a pay increase would be assigned, Millsap said.

Millsap said that the court took into consideration HCSO's reputation for solving crime when making the offer. The sheriff's office cleared about 95 percent of the cases reported from its books last year. Millsap said that fact, coupled with the department's professionalism and the need for both a continued and increased sheriff's department visibility in the county, were swaying factors in the court's decision.

"The sheriff's department maintains three to four officers a shift," he said. "We want more out there, to see a more increased presence in the county."

HCLEA voted on the matter Friday morning and agreed to accept the Commissioners Court's offers.

The court is also seriously discussing a cost of living increase for all county employees, which the sheriff's employees would also benefit from. The commissioners are scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. each day next week at the courthouse to discuss the coming year's budget.

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