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Elected officials get their raises Sheriff and constable’s pay raised

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JIM WILLIAMS
Staff Writer
WAXAHACHIE - After failing to have their pay raise requests approved by Ellis County Commissioners' Court on Aug. 13, elected county law enforcement officers received raises Friday, Aug. 24 from the Ellis County Salary Grievance Committee.

Grievance committee members voted unanimously, 9-0, on each line item of their agenda.

The unanimous vote took the decision out of commissioners' hands, automatically giving raises to these employees.

Had any of the items passed with less than a unanimous vote, it would have gone back to commissioners' courts in regular session Monday, Aug. 27. County commissioners acknowledged the grievance committee's vote and the passage passage of pay raises during its recent meeting.

Sheriff Ray Stewart's salary was a 33 percent increase to $60,699.

Pay raises for Justices of the Peace Sue Schmidt, Jackie Miller Jr., Curtis Polk and Chad Adams were increased to $42,000.

Raises for Constables Bill Woody, Terry Nay, Jimmie Ray and Perry 'Bubba' Curry were upped to $376,265.

'I thank the committee members,' said Stewart, a grievance committee member. 'The people are the ones who gained today.'

Ellis County Judge Al Cornelius, who served as chairman for the committee, but did not have a vote, said things came out of the hearing regarding all county employees that were noteworthy, which would be addressed in the near future.

'We have some very hard working employees,' Cornelius said. 'I think all of you and them are doing a great job. Congratulations to all of you who received a raise. It was deserved.'

Along with Stewart and Cornelius, elected officials on the grievance committee are John Bridges, county tax assessor/collector; Mark Price, county treasurer; Cindy Polley, county clerk; Billie Fuller, district clerk; and Joe Grubbs, county/district attorney.

Public citizens on the committee are Jim Roberts of Ennis, Betty Williams of Midlothian and Franklin Ritchey of Ennis.

Prior to voting, Price suggested options to monetary amounts requested by those filing grievances.

'I believe each was a very sincere and valid grievance,' he said. 'I'd like to pass around some different options.'

'I had the understanding it would either be raised or remain the same,' Stewart said.

'This paper he's passing around, the commissioners voted on that. They didn't pass it. No one should even look at that. Commissioners had their chance.'

'I just wanted to try to make a statement to enhance the possibility,' Price said.

'I want us to look at all the options. There are four of us who are elected officials who didn't ask for raises.'

'You're saying your vote may be biased because you feel pressure from the commissioners,' Adams said.

'I've never felt any pressure from the commissioners, but they do have our future in their hands,' Price said.

'You have reflected some sort of pressure either directly or indirectly from commissioners' court,' Adams said.

'I haven't felt any pressure from commissioners,' Price said. 'I'm not under any pressure from our commissioners.'

'This isn't arbitration,' Nay said.

'It's all or nothing,' Miller said.

Roberts said he wasn't aware what salaries these elected law enforcement officers had been receiving.

'It scares me a little bit what we might get if some of them did quit,' he said.

'I'm all against taxes, but you don't get something for nothing.'

Polley said a lot of times in the past these positions in particular had been considered on a personality problem and not quality of job.

'If Sheriff Stewart was not qualified and doing his job then the taxpayers needed to fire him,' she said. 'If I'm not doing my job they need to fire me.'

Polley said her concern was law enforcement in the county.

'Law enforcement in Ellis County has grossly been underpaid,' she said.

Fuller said citizens had voted for law enforcement.

Citizens voted last November to give sheriff's deputies pay raises.

Nay said some citizens were under the impression they had also voted for raises for constables, which was not true.

Fuller said she didn't feel pressured by county commissioners.

'I'm trying to do what's right,' she said. 'We can't afford to be chincy. We need good deputies and we lost a lot of deputies.'

After citizens voted for a county tax rollback in March, a number of deputies' positions were terminated.

'My concern is more than what I see here in this room,' Bridges said. 'My concern is for all employees of the county. All our positions are underpaid. We need to look at this on a larger scale.'

Bridges said he wanted to make something clear. He didn't already have his mind made up against these pay raises.

'I wasn't going to decide until I got in here and heard all the facts,' he said.

Ritchey said all the salaries were very low.

'I think you should start at the top and go all the way down and give all of them a raise,' he said.

Bridges said his county tax assessor/collector office handled $100 million per year.

'We are in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex,' he said. 'We are in that eight-county area. We have to handle this understaffed and underpaid.'

Tax assessor/collector branch offices in other Ellis County cities were closed following passage of the rollback vote.

Earlier during the grievance committee meeting, Stewart said one couldn't get rich in law enforcement.

'You just look to make a good living and retirement,' he said.

Stewart said county sheriff had to cover more geography and population than city police chiefs in Ellis.

'The sheriff of Ellis County makes less than three of his deputies,' he said.

Stewart has had 33 years in law enforcement. He has a bachelor's degree in law enforcement.

'People want a sheriff who helps them and that's what I do, help people,' he said.

'The sheriff's department controls 880 square miles. We take care of 90 percent of all criminal warrants. We take care of all paperwork. We take care of prisoner transportation.'

Stewart said 2,540 prisoners were transported back to the Ellis County Detention Center this past year.

The sheriff department works county and district courts.

'We dispatch for 23 agencies,' he said. 'We answered 57,000 911 calls [last year]. The sheriff takes care of smaller cities in Ellis County. We back up other cities. Here lately they back us up.

'We've booked in and out 90,000 prisoners [in the past year]. We take care of all inmates' needs, transporting to the state pen.

'We have our own training school. I set it up in 1989. It saves thousands of dollars. We have our own instructors here.'

As the sheriff said about helping people, he was usually there for others, but last Friday he said he was there for himself.

'You've got to plan for the future,' he said. 'The sheriff and sheriff's office should be kept in high regard.'

Schmidt asked for each of the justices of the peace salaries to be raised to those comparable to other counties.

'JPs issue various warrants,' she said. 'Serving Ellis County demands dedication and tremendous amount of energy.'

Schmidt said JPs resided over trials and hearings of various crimes involving adults and juveniles.

'JPs are on call 24/seven,' she said. 'I can not leave the county unless I can have someone stand in for me. Some counties have MEs [medical examiners].'

Schmidt said JPs in other counties received $40,000 or $41,000 per year. She said she currently received $34,055. She said JPs received 32 cents per mile for driving their vehicles on business.

'It's a tough time having to be here and do this,' Miller said. 'Unfortunately times require you to do some things. We're asking for fair pay.'

Miller said JPs in Navarro County received $45,000 per year for doing the same job.

'Dallas County JPs make more and don't do as much,' he said. 'Their tax base is higher. They can afford it.'

As Stewart said, Miller said he wasn't here to get rich.

'I know you have a tough call,' Miller said. 'We all work hard. We're just trying to make it. I'm a single parent. I'm going to be sending my daughter to college by myself. You know what that does to your finances. I love my job. I'm not going to quit if I don't get a raise. If you see my bank account you'll know I need a raise.

'Many county employees work weekends. The individuals that think we don't need a raise I don't see them out at 3 a.m. on a Sunday. I think our offices have been punished for something that happened three years ago.'

Polk said his JP office was amidst controversy when he took the job in 1994.

He presented letters of commendation from Lee Turner, a church pastor in Waxahachie and Mary Lou Shipley, former district attorney, for the job he had done in Precinct No. 3 the past seven years.

'My office has had a 100 percent turnaround,' Polk said. 'We're not asking for a whole lot of money. The money is there [in the county budget].'

Adams said coming from a Mennonite background with a strong work ethic, he felt foolish asking for a raise.

'In my whole life I've never asked a boss for a raise,' he said. 'I feel privileged to have a job. What I'm doing here betrays my perception of what our founding fathers would do. I'm embarrassed to ask for a raise.'

Adams said over the last three years, JPs and constables had pooled together all eight offices with computers for better communication and saved the county $30,000.

'We've become more efficient,' he said. 'With population growth we've more than doubled our work load. We've become a model for other justice courts in the state.

'We strive for a higher standard still. The decisions made by JPs forever transform lives - evicting people from homes, sending persons to prison and mental institutes... It's a heavy responsibility and shouldn't be taken lightly. JPs must attend 20 hours training each year. The value of this responsibility should be reflected in the salary of the job.'

Adams said in the last two weeks he had worked 150 hours, which averaged out to $8.68 per hour before taxes.

A husband and father, Adams said he asked himself how long he had been doing this and for what price.

'I'm afraid future justice court judges can not raise a family, to properly provide for his family' he said.

'I'm still embarrassed to have to ask you for a raise rather than you giving it to me for my work.'

Woody said all the constables were in unison about asking for, not a raise, but salary equalization.

'Like jobs should pay like salaries,' Nay said. 'You need to pay that position what will attract a qualified person to come work for it.'

He said it was cheaper for his wife to care for their children in their home rather than her work and they pay for daycare.

'We don't do this job to get rich,' Nay said. 'Sometimes I wonder why we do this job at all.'

He said this was the first grievance filing in nine or 11 years and now there were nine elected law enforcement officials filing grievances at the same time.

'That tells you something is wrong,' Nay said.

The grievance committee meeting adjourned for a little more than two hours to allow those who wanted to attend the funeral for former Ellis County JP J.W. Grigsby. The meeting reconvened at 1 p.m.

Marshal Evans, chairman for Taxpayers Alliance for Good Government, said he would be unable to return to the meeting in the afternoon, so he went ahead and spoke to media outside the commissioners' courtroom.

'You got very good employees who deserve raises,' Evans said. 'Raises are overdue. I voted for deputies' raises.'

He said he went in front of the state comptroller with a copy of the county's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Evans said the state comptroller's office said there was plenty of money, but there was a problem with the Tax Anticipation Notes for the new detention center and county offices.

'That's the reason it's a tough decision at this time,' Evans said. 'There's not enough money to go around. We don't know what's going to happen to the old Wal-Mart. They're not going to build an admin. building.

'TAGG has hundreds of members who make a lot less [money] and survive. It's falling on deaf ears who make less. The finger needs to be pointed at the top. The persons responsible for TAN can give raises.

'The sheriff was going to make more money. There's a difference between need and want. It's true logical need for the sheriff to make at least the same as the chief deputy or more. Other departments will survive just fine if they don't get that.

'Parts of our country are in a recession. The economy wasn't what it was. The fact of the matter is you have to live within the budget. Stop making decisions on emotion and make decisions on logic.

'I'm more for giving the sheriff a raise than others. They all deserve it.'

However, Evans said there were people willing to do these jobs for what they were making.

'To some extent that's the line they've gone over,' he said.

'They say they've got kids to put through college. I put myself through college.'

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