ABILENE, Texas - Taylor County Sheriff Ricky Bishop said there are ten positions open at the County Jail that have been nearly impossible to fill because they can't get quality applicants with the pay offered.
He also said it's hard to keep employees in the positions with that salary, coupled with occasionally dangerous work conditions.
"Inmates throwing feces and urine on them, spitting on them, they say 'I'm not gonna deal with this for $25,000,' and they walk out and they work back in the fast food where they can make basically the same amount of money," said Bishop.
He said that according to a 2009 pay study, out of 30 counties comparable Taylor, we ranked 28th in lowest pay.
Bishop was under the impression that pay raises for his department had to go through a personnel committee. He said earlier this month that salary requests couldn't be part of his budget proposal to the commissioners.
"Somewhere along the line that changed or we were given some bad information," said Bishop.
He presented two different proposals to county commissioners yesterday. They would both be a 3 percent raise across the board. The first was for just over $280,000 and would give a three percent salary increase for deputies and corrections officers. The second was for just over $290,000 and would also give a 3 percent raise to bailiffs, constables and juvenile corrections officers.
He said he wants to educate the public on the work they do.
"There are a lot of people that think the only thing the Sheriff's office does is put up horses and cows all day when that's not the case," said Bishop.
He promised to lobby for the salary increases when he was elected.
"I was able to fulfill at least a campaign promise I made which was to ask for pay raises and that's what we did and I know money is tight this year with the commissioners, now whether it's gonna happen or not I don't know," said Bishop.
Bishop said his department gets the same training as Abilene Police or officers with the Department of Public Safety, but they aren't getting paid what they deserve.
"These guys put their lives on the line everyday for 25,000 a year," said Bishop.
Taylor County Judge Downing Bolls said Sheriff Bishop's request is valid, but so are the requests for pay raises from other county departments.
"We're trying to address pay but we're trying to address it on a countywide level as opposed to one specific department," said Bolls.
He said that will take a lot of time and money.
"We're still in the process right now of trying to match up revenues and what we're going to have to make changes to to be able to afford the budget this year and we haven't ruled out the possibility of a tax increase," said Bolls.
For 2013, commissioners approved a tax increase of one cent. Bolls said that to his knowledge, that was the first time it had been raised since 1997.
Though they are trying to avoid a hike this year, he said it's important to increase county employees' pay.
He said a personnel committee conducted a survey of four counties similar to Taylor and found out that bringing all Taylor County employees- there are 546 full-time employees- up to average pay all at once would cost $2.8 million. That means it will be a process that will be completed in steps.
"We are way behind in terms of what our employees make and we are trying to bring everybody up to a level that puts them as close to average with those other four counties that we possibly can," said Bolls.
He understands the plight of Sheriff Ricky Bishop and his department.
"One of the basic truths about wages is the dirtier the job and the uglier the job the more you typically have to pay people to do it," said Bolls. "That's the logic they're using in their argument. But the other side of the coin is people will tell you ‘hey, they knew what the job paid when they took the job and they took the job."
Bolls said they are focusing on the lowest paid employees right now.
He's not sure Bishop's 3 percent across the board raise for his department is the answer. It would mean the highest and lowest paid would get the same raise, so the top would benefit most.
He's hoping the budget can be resolved in a fair way.
"I don't think anybody in that commissioners court is opposed to people in the Sheriff's department making a raise but we're not opposed to other county employees getting a raise either. the question is, how much and how quickly can you afford it?" said Bolls.
If approved, the raises would go into effect October 1, 2013.