DALLAS -- Every time the gavel hit at Dallas County Commissioners Court, the sheriff's employees grew more anxious.
They were waiting to hear if they were going to get a raise.
“These guys have been freezing stuff for years, and I'm still at the same step,” Traffic Deputy Billy Ray Hamilton told commissioners.
He and others packed the room, imploring commissioners to approve an eight-percent raise, plus step increases for deputies.
Investigator Clad Prda directly addressed County Judge Clay Jenkins.
“Your vehicle allowance is more than the pay raise that some employees will receive,” Prda said, causing the room to erupt in clapping.
Rapidly rising property values had given county commissioners $46 million in additional tax revenue, if they kept the property rate the same. Jenkins and County Commissioner Mike Cantrell wanted a lower rate, citing a rising burden on homeowners.
Jenkins and Cantrell, the lone Republican on the court, offered a number of alternatives.
Jenkins authored an alternative that would have still given an eight-percent increase, but the raises would have been delayed until Jan. 1, 2017. Cantrell's alternative would have given employees a three-percent raise.
Their proposals were rejected by the other commissioners.
Jenkins abstained from voting on the budget. Cantrell voted no. It carried with votes from county commissioners Theresa Daniel, John Wiley Price, and Elba Garcia.
And with that, the $1 billion county budget -- that included the eight-percent raise for 5,840 employees -- was passed.
It was good news for Sheriff Lupe Valdez and her 700 employees.
“We need to be able to pay our folks what the surrounding areas are paying,” Valdez said.
Dallas County Sheriff's Association President Chris Dyer led the pay fight. He was pleased with the raises, but even with them, he says, the pay will still significantly lag behind what competing departments pay.
“I see us hire people in and immediately lose them,” Dyer said.
For six years from 2008 to 2014, the county froze step increases during the economic downtown. It’s created situations where employees with less experience make the same as more-tenured employees.
“This is a good step moving toward fixing toward fixing the damage that has been due to the pay freeze,” Prda told commissioners. “It will take many years to bring our pay scale up to a point where we can compete with other departments.”
Dyer also says that increased insurance costs will significantly reduce the impact of even an eight-percent pay raise. For example, it would mean about $900 more on an annual basis for some clerks in the sheriff’s department because of higher insurance premiums.
The salary and step increases will cost the county a total of $24 million.
Last month, County Commissioners voted to give themselves and other elected county officials a six-percent raise.
However, they excluded 21 county court judges, which include judges who hear probate and misdemeanor cases.
A group of the county court judges pleaded with commissioners to change their mind.
“I don’t believe that’s right,” said County Court Judge Angela King. “I don’t believe it’s fair.”
County Criminal Appeals Judge Jeff Rosenfield called it “discriminatory.”
County court judges make $159,000 annually in Dallas County -– less than their counterparts in some counties, including Tarrant and Wise. Their salaries are paid for by the county, but the state reimburses 60 percent of the salary.
Daniel made a motion to include the county judges in the pay raise. She did not get a second.
“We were very surprised to not be included,” said County Judge Nancy Mulder. “We do what we do because we care. We want to serve. It makes us feel like we’re not appreciated.”
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