Victoria County commissioners plan to budget a $2 per hour raise for Victoria County Sheriff’s Office licensed peace officers for the 2020 fiscal year.
During Victoria County budget workshops, the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office proposed a $2.47 million increase to its budget for the 2020 fiscal year, with most earmarked for salary increases. Chief Deputy Roy Boyd told commissioners earlier this month that the sheriff’s office has struggled to recruit and retain employees for years because of its pay scale.
Monday, Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O’Connor and Boyd stressed to commissioners again the “critical” state of the sheriff’s office budget.
“We’re at that point, we’re at that crossroads to where you have to make a decision of how best to assist the sheriff’s office,” O’Connor said. He asked commissioners to consider what public safety is worth to the community when taking the proposal into consideration.
The sheriff’s office proposed a budget of $18,322,770 for the 2020 fiscal year, which begins Jan 1. The office’s 2019 budget is $15,855,851.
O’Connor told commissioners while the sheriff’s office understands the county has to address various budget requests, the proposal from sheriff’s office has been developing over 15 years. The proposed $2.47 million increase doesn’t include more personnel, he said, because the office has to first focus on retaining employees.
“We won’t even be, with what we’ve proposed to you, at a competitive pay,” he said. “But at least it’s something to allow them to feel like they’re being considered for what they do on a daily basis.”
County Judge Ben Zeller said while “every single department” struggles to retain employees, the county cannot fund an additional $2.47 million for the sheriff’s office. His priority, he said, would be to increase the pay for licensed peace officers.
The $2 per hour raise for licensed peace officers in the sheriff’s office equates to a raise of about $4,500 per year per officer, Zeller said. The licensed peace officers include about 130 people, he said. All other sheriff’s office personnel who are not licensed peace officers, which could include some jail employees or administrative staff, would receive $1 per hour raises.
O’Connor told commissioners “anything shy of $2.4 million is going to be problematic for us.”
“Let’s get to the bottom line: The Victoria County Sheriff’s Office needs $2.4 million going forward for the 2020 budget, and that’s pretty much it, judge,” he said. He added that an increase just for licensed peace officers is a “temporary fix,” unless the county plans to continue addressing the matter in the long term with a step pay plan.
Zeller said after the meeting that although he understands the sheriff’s request for the nearly $2.5 million increase to the office’s budget, “commissioners’ court had to prioritize within the funding available, and for us that priority was more competitive paychecks for our peace officers.”
The county will hold two public hearings in September for residents to comment on the county’s proposed budget. The budget, as well as the proposed 2020 tax rate – which is proposed at 39.59 cents per $100 of valuation, the same rate as 2019 – are scheduled to be adopted Sept. 23.
Also Monday, commissioners discussed the possibility of increasing the county’s insurance coverage for cybercrimes.
Currently, Victoria County is covered for $100,000 worth of damages, John Sestak, the county’s IT director, told commissioners Monday. He said that amount “probably wouldn’t last long if an incident happened.”
Zeller said it would be ideal to have at least $1 million in coverage. Sestak said an estimate from Frost Insurance stated $1 million of coverage in this area would cost the county $22,404 per year.
For the county’s current $100,000 of coverage, the cost is $4,700 a year. The county first purchased the liability insurance policy in December.
Monday’s discussion came about “in light of what we’re seeing throughout the state, throughout the country,” Zeller said.
In May, Jackson County was hit with a cyberattack. The county’s computers and digital records were taken hostage after hackers penetrated their computers and internal network. Jackson County Judge Jill Sklar did not disclose the amount demanded, which was requested in the form of Bitcoin, an untraceable digital currency, but said previously “it is an enormous ransom that our county can’t afford.”
Commissioners chose to delay any action on the matter Monday to allow time to gather different estimates for coverage options.