by BRAD ROLLINS
In a courtroom ringed by sheriff’s deputies, county leaders this morning voted unanimously to increase the base salary for starting law enforcement officers and work out a tiered system for raises based on seniority.
Sponsored by Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley, officials said the proposal is necessary to keep sheriff’s and constables’ deputies competitive with other surrounding jurisdictions that generally pay more. The department has a dozen open positions including criminal investigators and detectives reassigned to patrol duty for the duration of the personnel shortage.
Based on a survey of police, sheriff and state law enforcement positions in Comal, Travis, Guadalupe and Williamson counties, Sheriff Allen Bridges proposed a $41,900, a 14 percent increase over the current starting salary of $36,287. The number was pared down to $40,794 in the resolution approved today. Detectives would start at $57,200 and sergeants at $66,300 under Bridge’s proposal although those employees were not addressed in the final resolution.
“I have no interest in penny pinching when it comes to law enforcement,” Conley said. “This is a specialized group of employees that are in a position to ruin somebody’s life or cost the county millions of dollars and we need to make sure we can compete for the best law enforcement officers we can get.”
The resolution also puts the court on record supporting department-furnished uniforms, which officials said cost about $1,500, instead of the current $40 per month clothing allowance. None of the changes will take effect until the start of the next fiscal year Oct. 1 but Bridges and Conley said a committment now will help recruiting efforts.
Despite the 5-0 vote, the pay hike was not without its skeptics. When District Clerk Cecelia Adair asked if she could say something, someone from the back of the room said loudly, “I think you’ve said enough.” Adair turned and stared at some deputies for a tense few seconds.
“I’m not here to oppose pay raises for deputies. I am here to advocate for my employees and other employees in the county, that we put them on an even playing field,” Adair said in questioning why the request was being considered ahead of the summer budgetmaking season.
Reminding the court of a significant pay raise for sheriff’s department officers a few years back, San Marcos resident Sherri Bilson said, “You are public servants and when your salary increases so much over and beyond what the people paying your salary are making, I’m afraid we’re creating a police state not a police department.”
County Judge Elizabeth Sumter also pointed out that the market survey used to justify the increases did not include neighboring Caldwell County, where the starting deputy pay is somewhere around $23,000. She also argued for delaying a vote until details of the tier-based automatic increases can be worked out.
The overwhelming din of support in the audience however apparently could not be ignored.
“Besides being among the lowest paid officers in the area, there are other reasons to warrant a pay scale modification — they are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week and put their lives in harm’s way everyday for us,” said Wimberley resident Glenda Wilcox.