Wise County Messenger

Budget tackles turnover at WCSO

WISE COUNTY


LOOKING INTO THE NUMBERS — Wise County Judge J.D. Clark goes over the 2022/23 fiscal year budget with commissioners Monday. The proposed budget totaled $40.8 million. RICHARD GREENE/WCMESSENGER

LOOKING INTO THE NUMBERS — Wise County Judge J.D. Clark goes over the 2022/23 fiscal year budget with commissioners Monday. The proposed budget totaled $40.8 million. RICHARD GREENE/WCMESSENGER

The Wise County Sheriff’s Office experienced 31 percent turnover in 2021, according to Sheriff Lane Akin.

Higher salaries for law enforcement officers, jailers and dispatchers in the Metroplex contributed to the turnover and exacted a heavy toll not only financially but in time. When one sheriff’s office employee left, the county would need to invest again in training, up to six months in the academy for officers and another six months field training, with the knowledge there was a risk of soon losing that person.

“For years and years, the sheriff’s office has long been a training ground for area departments, especially when they can go 20 miles down the road and make more than they can here,” Akin said.

With the proposed $40.8 million Wise County 2022/23 fiscal year budget presented to commissioners Monday, Akin is optimistic the department can start retaining more employees. The budget includes 7 percent raises for law enforcement, jailers and dispatchers with nearly $700,000 in additional payroll available for the sheriff’s office. The department’s expected payroll has been increased from $12.241 million to $12.931 million.

HELP ON THE WAY — In the proposed budget, Wise County Sheriff’s Office law enforcement officers, jailers anddispatcherswillreceivea7percentraise.The department had 31 percent turnover in 2021, according to Sheriff Lane Akin. MACK THWEATT/WCMESSENGER

HELP ON THE WAY — In the proposed budget, Wise County Sheriff’s Office law enforcement officers, jailers anddispatcherswillreceivea7percentraise.The department had 31 percent turnover in 2021, according to Sheriff Lane Akin. MACK THWEATT/WCMESSENGER

“We hope it helps significantly. We’ve had a great amount of concern in our profession on how to hold on to our people,” Akin said. “We appreciate what the commissioners are doing to pay a competitive salary.”

The sheriff’s office will also be paying overtime instead of accumulating compensation time. Akin and County Judge J.D. Clark said the comp time payment had become an incentive to leave, with the county forced to cut a check for any accrued comp time when the employee left.

“I’ve learned they are calling it the quitting check,” Akin said.

The county is allotting $250,000 for overtime for law enforcement, $60,000 for jailers and $70,000 for dispatchers.

“We’re going to watch it carefully and make sure it’s not abused,” Akin said.

Clark hopes the raises and overtime will address some of the retention issues within the sheriff’s office.

“In the sheriff’s office, we’ve had much higher retention problems than other offices,” Clark said. “A lot of the factors are out of our hands. But we can try to do what we can to be creative and make our Wise County Sheriff’s Office a more attractive place to come than not just some place in the Metroplex but amongst other city agencies in our county. We’re competing for the same talent pool as the city agencies.”

Overall, 61 percent of the budget is for public safety.

“It’s a huge cost having good public safety departments and a functioning court system,” Clark said.

Other county departments will get a 5 percent bump in pay, with department heads determining the individual pay for employees. Total staff pay is increasing by $900,000.

Constables are receiving a $5,000 pay increase to bring their salaries to $46,000. Other elected officials are getting a 3 percent increase in pay.

“We don’t give elected officials raises every time we give staff raises,” Clark said. “We do staff raises more often than we do elected official raises. That’s absolutely appropriate. However, we run the risk of throwing salary scales out of alignment, if we don’t increase elected officials pay. It’s a smaller increase than we’ve given employees, but it helps keep our salary scales balanced.”

The county will continue to pay for 100 percent of the health insurance costs for employees, along with contributing $10,000 toward dependent coverage. The cost of insurance is increasing by 5.9 percent.

Four positions are being added in the budget — an administrative assistant for sheriff and chief deputy, two EMS personnel and a hazard mitigation and disaster recovery grant writer.

Clark said the administrative assistant was a position eliminated in the budget cuts in 2016 and is needed for the busy office.

The EMS personnel were part of the six people added for the EMS station in New Fairview. All six positions were fully funded by the American Rescue Plan this year. The county will add two spots per year to the payroll from the station over the next three years.

The grant writer will be a shared position with the City of Decatur. Decatur will pay $35,000 of the $50,000 salary.

There is also an additional $159,000 in funding for fire departments ($1.1 million total) along with more funds for Meals on Wheels ($65,000 total), Wise Hope Domestic Violence Task Force ($50,000), Children’s Advocacy Center for North Texas ($30,000) and Court Appointed Special Advocates ($56,000).

The county will hold a public hearing at 8:45 a.m. Sept. 12 on the budget and tax rate before looking to adopt them.

The county is proposing a cut in the tax rate from 34 cents per $100 of valuation to 30 cents (25.5 cents for general fund and 4.5 cents for road and bridge).

The proposed tax rate off the $11.2 billion tax roll will produce $28.1 million for the general fund and $4.9 million for road and bridge. Wise County added $334 million in new construction.

“We want to see property coming on to the rolls. It allows us to do some things we need to do for growth,” Clark said.

Overall, Clark added the budget accomplishes many of the county’s goals, while also bringing down the tax rate. With the average homestead value in Wise County at $205,420, the average tax bill will be $616.26.

“It’s a good budget. Where the county is at, we have to thread the needle with a lot of our needs,” he said. “We’re fortunate with the new growth to provide the taxpayers with relief by dropping the tax rate by 4 cents.

“When I look at the county piece, I can’t complain at all. I’d pay $616 as a subscription service to have deputies on the road.”

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