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Numbers adding up in favor of Sheriff´s Department raise

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RUSTY WELLER
Ellis County Press Managing Editor
WAXAHACHIE - Numbers are adding up in favor of the Sheriff's Department drive for 30-percent raises:

-- A petition drive reportedly topped the 5169 signatures required to put the issue on November's ballot.

-- The telltale turnover number indicates how many employees have left for higher-paying jobs after receiving training.

-- Comparisons against the pay rates of surrounding counties appear to strengthen the department's position.

-- The Texas Municipal Police Association believes there is a way to fund the raises without raising taxes.

'We're still working the petition drive to make sure we have more than enough verified signatures,' said Deputy Charles Kellis, who is helping to spearhead the effort. 'I'd say the total is around 5200 to 5300 so far, and we have until the end of the month to finish up.'

Since the Ellis County Commissioners Court has flatly refused to consider the raises -- instead demanding the Sheriff's Department cut its budget 10 percent -- the petition allows county residents to decide the issue in the voting booth. The department is hoping public support will encourage negotiations so a vote won't be necessary.

Five negotiators will represent the department, Kellis said. They are David Brown, James Jenkins, Craig Curry and Patty Junkin-Pearman of Waxahachie and Roy Callender of Bristol.

'If it goes to the voters, we'd be perfectly happy,' said Kellis, who expects the department to go before the court again when the petition is ready to present.

The Sheriff's Department has lost 31 employees since the first of the year - 24.6 percent of its employees, Kellis reports. The attrition averaged two employees a week at one time.

'The jail is the big problem,' Kellis said. 'It continually has a turnover. When people see the risks against what's paid, they wake up. They just can't run the risks of TB, HIV, hepatitis and inmate attack for what is being paid.'

Turnover has cost the county an estimated $325,000 in training costs since 1997, according to department figures. Deputies can jump to nearby community police forces and earn substantially more pay - up to $10,000 in some cases - for similar duties.

'It takes a year and a half to two years for a new officer to get used to the job,' Kellis said, 'for them to know the street, what to look for. Yet we lose most before they're with us two years.'

The department's pay levels are coming out well in comparisons, said Kellis, who is gathering figures from seven surrounding counties for the commissioners to see. 'Henderson County has 60,000 people compared to our 100,000, but it pays better and has take-home cars too.'

The Sheriff's Department is being helped by the TMPA, which arranged for Executive Director Kevin Lawrence to speak in support of the 30 percent raises at a recent press conference held at Oak Leaf City Hall.

'The TMPA has made a suggestion to bring in an outside auditor to find money for the raises without raising taxes,' Kellis said.

Lawrence noted the 24.6 percent turnover rate means the department will lose half of its new employees by the end of the year, then said the raises would cost less than the resulting training.

'The cost to train new officers each year can be directed into the pockets of the officers, instead on training,' said Lawrence, adding such a move wouldn't cost the taxpayers anything. 

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Nelson Propane

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