Warren County sheriff asks for 1.7% budget increase, higher starting salaries for employees

Published 12:32 pm Thursday, July 27, 2023

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office is requesting a 1.7% annual budget increase in the upcoming fiscal year, Sheriff Martin Pace said in discussions with the Warren County Board of Supervisors on Monday.

Included in the sheriff’s office budget proposal are increased equipment costs for items such as memory cards in body cameras and dashboard cameras, as well as components to outfit new patrol vehicles purchased by the department.

Pace also asked the board to consider pay increases for his office’s 51 budgeted positions, citing the need to be competitive in the job market.

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“We’re not asking to wave a magic wand and have more slots,” Pace said. “The monster in the room is the deputies’ salaries, allowing us to compete. I know we can’t compete with (departments like) Capitol Police; they’re killing everybody.

“We need to be able to compete with the Vicksburg Police Department. They’re over $18 an hour, and it’s put us behind the curve,” he added. “It’s a whole different generation. When I first started working here, I would’ve worked for free. But this generation now, if someone up the road offers $1 more an hour, you have to do everything you can to hold them. It’s just not a popular time to be a local cop.”

Pace said his goal is to increase starting salaries to $19.64 an hour for certified officers and $18.30 an hour for uncertified officers, adding, “The uniformed patrol is where I’m hurting the worst.”

Currently, uncertified officers earn $16.73 per hour and certified officers earn $18.08 per hour.

“One of the biggest challenges for law enforcement officers across the country is attracting quality officers to serve their community,” Pace said. “We also currently offer college incentives that boost pay and a physical fitness incentive.”

Of the 51 budgeted positions in the sheriff’s office, Pace said 37 are currently filled. Of the 14 remaining open positions, eight are uniformed officers, two are investigators and four are court services positions.

Other line items that increased versus last year include the cost of bullet-proof vests and firearms.

“We have some of the firearms from officers that have left, but you can’t retool the vests,” Pace said. “Every time an officer comes on, the vests are custom-fit.”

An area where the sheriff’s office is attempting to scale back is supplying uniforms to officers. Instead of supplying all-new uniforms to every new hire at the department, Pace said a move has been made toward outfitting officers in dry-cleaned, gently used uniforms as the department is able.

Another “silver lining,” the sheriff said, is that due to COVID-related supply chain issues, the department just received its vehicles purchased in FY 2021. Because more new vehicles are currently on the road, the sheriff’s office is only requesting three new vehicles in FY 2024 instead of the customary 10 or 15, he said.

Regardless the county will have to make some necessary cuts to the sheriff’s office budget as well as the jail budget, said Board Vice President Dr. Jeffery Holland.

“The situation we’re in, now more than ever, is we’re about to build a jail, and we’ve cut from almost every department except these two,” Holland said. “And yet we’re building a jail, so we will have to cut from these two departments. We’ve cut from other departments in order to be able to pay for the jail. So, the taxpayers, I imagine, would expect that to occur here as well. We’re trying to look for anything we can.”

Board President Kelle Barfield elaborated following the Monday budget session, saying she recognizes the needs of the sheriff’s office in the upcoming fiscal year.

Now that the new Warren County Jail site is in the design phase and the selection of partners has been completed, Barfield said, the Board of Supervisors is acutely aware of the need to fund the project without increasing millage rates.

“That’s why we have continued to ask hard questions, especially in areas where budget increases are being requested or in areas where spending over the last three years has not exceeded their existing budget,” she said. “We haven’t gotten through all the departments yet, which will end up giving us an overall picture of a grand total budget, as well as how property values impact the value of a mill. Eventually, once we see those numbers in sum total, we’ll have a better eye toward two things: salary increases across the board in the county as well as the funding available for the jail without increasing millage, which is our goal.”

Barfield added that, as the new jail is still in the design phase, a cost estimate and funding for the project is yet to be determined.

The Board of Supervisors will vote on the county’s FY 2024 budget in September, prior to the beginning of the fiscal year on Oct. 1.