Sheriff seeks deputy raises

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 26, 2014

A step-up in pay to reward a step-up in rank formed the heart of the latest pitch by Sheriff Martin Pace to the Warren County Board of Supervisors to raise deputy salaries in his department.
Some form of tiered system of automatic pay hikes when deputies are either promoted or achieve additional certification would ease the sting of an $8.50 hourly rate for entry-level officers and jailers, Pace told supervisors Monday. No specifics came about on the size and scope of such a plan, as officials had yet to weigh the effect of a higher-than-expected request for dollars from the Vicksburg Warren School District.
“I have always tried to attract and retain truly professional officers for this county,” Pace said. “If you look across jurisdictions, they are head and shoulders above most local officers.”
The department has estimated $3.9 million in spending for fiscal 2015, or about a half-million less than an entry noted on the county’s first-draft budget last week. Pay raises of 5 percent for the respective chiefs of investigation and patrol and 3 percent for most other uniformed officers and jailers were requested in an eight-page report submitted to the county earlier this month. In it, eight new full-time positions are requested — three new jailers, an investigator, a street patrol officer, a receptionist, an evidence clerk and an IT technician exclusive to the department. Thirty-three uniformed officer positions are listed on the request, one fewer than last year.
Sheriffs’ salaries in Mississippi are set by the Legislature and based on population. Pace’s salary and that of other sheriffs in counties with populations between 45,000 and 100,000 increased to $90,000 effective July 1 after Gov. Phil Bryant signed off on a new pay scale approved during last winter’s legislative session.
Decision-makers were split on whether and how fast to implement tiered raises, which were put in place earlier this month for Vicksburg police officers.
“It would, in theory, give us budget stability,” County Administrator John Smith said, though the decision on an absolute base pay for deputies, he reminded, is ultimately up to the five supervisors.
Pay raises effective July 1 for the Vicksburg Police Department allowed for 20-cents an hour raises each year, depending on experience, and 50-cents an hour after the tenth year of service. The boosts were part of a larger round of raises across city government. Entry-level pay at VPD and WCSO is about $29,000. District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon didn’t refer VPD’s raises specifically, but broached the issue of salaries between city and county law enforcement agencies.
“I think they need to be comparable in salaries,” Selmon said.
Property taxes are expected to increase at least $20 for every $100,000 in assessed value on homes and businesses countywide to fund the school district’s decision to tack 2 mills onto its current millage rate. That estimate might grow slightly before a final budget is adopted in September, as VWSD trustees on Thursday approved a $27.6 million request for dollars from the county to fund the millage hike. The draft version of the budget was based on a $26.3 million request. The county’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Board President Bill Lauderdale told Pace he wasn’t against raises this year, but recouping more fines due the county from criminal defendants was more important. Throughout the current board administration, officials have estimated unpaid fines since the early 1990s total about $3 million.
“I agree with you on the pay and all, but we’ve got to get stuff fixed in order to get us some funds in here,” Lauderdale said.
Pace countered the problem with fines stems from the judicial system, not law enforcement.
“We can’t get them out the jail any better than the courts can,” he said. “We don’t have any control over most of what you’re talking about.”
New cars and equipment make up more than $270,000 in requested spending from the department. The list includes 10 more patrol cruisers, a prisoner transport van, new intercom and telephone systems, a body scanner, a gas deep fryer, a new back door at the jail and a remodeling job to the jailor’s booth inside the jail.

On the agenda
Meeting informally Friday on the budget, the Board of Supervisors:
• Heard a request from District Attorney Ricky Smith on adding a restitution coordinator to his office next fiscal year.
Smith asked supervisors pay for the position by rolling over $44,000 used this year to pay Assistant DA Bert Carraway. That position is among 14 ADAs in the state whose pay next year has been shifted to state funding by the Legislature.
The coordinator would check with the circuit clerk regularly to see whether victims of crime have been paid restitution due by court orders.
Smith’s request comes barely a month after his office reported to supervisors nearly $10,000 in restitution payments from late April and early May weren’t paid. The period covered the last full month former clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree held office.
•  Heard a request from fire coordinator Jerry Briggs to raise the ¼-mill tax levy charged countywide by another ¾ of a mill to fund fuel and equipment maintenance costs in the county’s two smaller volunteer fire districts.
If adopted by supervisors as part of the final budget, the hike would raise $240,000 to help LeTourneau and Northeast volunteer fire departments defray those costs, Brigs said. Neither department is part of a taxing district, unlike Culkin, Fisher Ferry, Bovina and Eagle Lake volunteer stations. Special assessments on property tax bills in the four larger districts were increased by 2 mills last year to fund equipment costs.

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