The Victoria County Sheriff’s Office has proposed a $2.47 million increase to its budget for the 2020 fiscal year, with most earmarked for salary increases and personnel.
During Victoria County budget workshops this week, 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.
The optimum budget for the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office is $20 million, Sheriff T. Michael O’Connor said to County commissioners during the workshop. The need for an increased budget is clear, O’Connor said. He said during weekly meetings with commanders and captains it’s been “pretty much routine” for him to hear “Sheriff, I need,” in regards to additional people and resources.
“And I’ve always told them, “You’ve got to do what you got to do, with what you have,” he said.
The sheriff’s office averages 18.5 vacancies, according to the proposal.
“For years, the sheriff’s office has struggled to recruit and retain employees,” Chief Deputy Roy Boyd said. The challenge is not because of a lack of trying but because of the pay scale, he said.
During the budget workshop, Boyd presented a salary comparison developed by the Texas Municipal Police Association that compared the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office to other agencies in the area that the sheriff’s office loses employees to. The counties and cities compared to Victoria included Calhoun, Harris, Jefferson counties and Sugar Land, Seguin, Gonzales and Katy police departments.
When comparing salaries, a starting peace officer at the sheriff’s office earns $49,951, which is $797 more than the average, but a top peace officer at the sheriff’s office makes $15,805 less than average.
Sergeants and lieutenants have flat salaries, meaning raised are not built in for experience.
“Where you start is where you stop for us,” Boyd said. A sergeant in Victoria County starts at $53,953, which is $10,100 less than the average and $23,825 less than the top pay for that rank at other agencies.
A starting lieutenant with Victoria County earns $57,821, which is $17,480 below the average, and $33,444 below the average for the top of the rank compared to other agencies.
Compared to the Victoria Police Department specifically, which is the main competition for the sheriff’s office, Boyd said, the top pay for a lieutenant with the police department is $86,219 – $28,398 more than at the sheriff’s office.
When it comes to recruiting, Boyd said, people ask immediately what the starting pay is and what the maximum pay is and how long it takes to get from the first step to the last step. Because of the pay scales, the sheriff’s office hears that the pay is just not enough.
County commissioners brought up the fact that the county has “better” insurance and retirement than the city, to which Boyd agreed. Before his tenure with Victoria County, Boyd worked with the city for 20 years.
But when it comes to recruiting, Boyd added, a 20-year-old doesn’t prioritize those things. They want “instant gratification and instant money,” he said.
County Judge Ben Zeller said the county has discussed over the past couple of years reducing the retirement benefit and putting those dollars back into paychecks. Zeller said that he doesn’t really like the idea of tweaking the county’s retirement benefit, but it could be something worth considering.
For the 2020 fiscal year, Zeller has proposed a 3% cost of living raise for all county employees.
If the county adopts the 3% cost of living pay increase, the sheriff’s office is still “not going to compete,” Boyd said.
Boyd recommended the sheriff’s office begin using a step pay plan, which is an industry standard among agencies of similar size. The fact the sheriff’s office doesn’t already use one “really hurts us” when the office tries to recruit.
“We’re way behind by not having one; it’s just how it is,” Boyd said. “It’s one of those things that’s been haunting us for quite some time but especially since the police department decided to go to one.”
The proposed pay plan outlined pay increases at different increments for different staff at the sheriff’s office.
Salary increases within the proposed $2.47 million budget include $226,464 for administration personnel, including a proposed $13,530 increase for the sheriff, which would bring the sheriff’s salary to $100,000.
Boyd said that he understands the dilemma that the county likely finds itself in trying to figure out how to pay for everything requested. But, he said, because of how busy the city police department is, the sheriff’s office has become the last defense in the area and the primary proactive law enforcement in Victoria County and the city of Victoria.
“If something isn’t done to help the sheriff’s office keep up and be propped up, there will be no proactive law enforcement in this county – none,” he said.