(Orange, Texas)

September 7, 2013

Examining Orange County Sheriff's Office salaries

Dawn Burleigh
The Orange Leader

ORANGE — The cost of salaries in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has increased by almost one-third in the past five years, from $8.3 million in 2008-08 to $11.1 million in the current fiscal year, according to figures obtained from the county through a Freedom of Information Act request.

In 2008-2009, the estimated cost in salaries for the Sheriff Office was $8,347,904.56.

The projected cost for salaries for the office for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, 2013, is expected to be $11,092,855.50 according to information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The two previous years the Orange County Sheriff’s salary has been an issue that was pushed to the side to be dealt with the next year, next budget, next time.

Sheriff Keith Merritt is in his second term as a sheriff but was given credit for his years of service as Constable Pct. 1 which has him receiving the pay of a 3rd term sheriff at $88,400, according to the Matrix. The Chief Deputy, the position directly under the Sheriff, base salary is $96,324.80 before longevity and certifcate pay.

The matrix is a chart that shows the range of salaries in the county and is used when a decision is being made about how much salaries should increase.

The matrix, when first implemented in the county, caused every employee and elected official to be reclassified to determine where on the Matrix pay scale they needed to be for their position.

The employees of Orange County are on a separate matrix from the elected officials.

The collective bargaining agreement for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for  2006-2009 and for 2009-2013 show an increase in pay compensation for all Sheriff employees. The increase from the fiscal year 2008-2009  and 2011/2012 is as high as 46.37 percent for captains and the chief deputy.

The county, after several cuts, is still facing a $4 million deficit. The deficit was $6.5 million at the beginning of the budget talks.

The Sheriff Office also recieved cuts elimnating new cars requested for the 2013/2014 fiscal year.

Sheriff empolyee wages are based on an hourly rate for an annual salary. The yearly salary is the calculated with longevity pay and the certificates before being divided by 26 for the bi weekly salary.

According to wages for the Orange County Sheriff Office wages and salary scale, the chief deputy makes $102,124.80 a year not including longevity pay or other compensations.

The Cheif Deputy recieves $5,800 in certificate compensation for Advanced Peace Officers License, Instructor, and SWAT.

The Sheriff can recieve compensation for only one certificate, even if he holds several.

“There are three or four that recieve $6,000 a year for certificates,” Merritt said. “I know of one that gets paid for four certificates.”

In order to work in law enforcement, one must possess a certified Texas Peace Officers License. In a job description for the Chief Deputy, that position also requires an individual to have an Advanced Peace Officers License.

The terms of the contract also state that union employees may receive compensation for holding a certificate other than the required Texas Peace Officers License.

1701.351 of the Occupations Code requires individuals appointed as peace officers to complete at least 40 hours of continuing education training every 24 month unit (to include a legal update course) and 1701.352 requires specific courses to be completed during the 48 month cycle according to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education website.

The same website states, “To qualify for an advanced peace officer proficiency certificate, an applicant must meet all proficiency requirements including:

(1) an intermediate peace officer certificate;

(2) successful completion of courses currently required by Texas Occupations Code §1701.402 and the commission; and

(3) one of the following combinations of training hours or degrees and peace officer experience:

(A) 800 training hours and 12 years,

(B) 1200 training hours and nine years or an associate's degree and six years, or

(C) 2400 training hours and six years or a bachelor's degree and five years.

The rate of compensation for said certificates has also increased since the previous 2006-2009 contract, some as much as 200%.

At least one individual in the Sheriff’s Office receives compensation for four certificates.

“We encourage our people to go to school,” Merritt said. “It allows us to have a better person on the streets.”

Sheriff Union negotiations to this point have been in closed session concerning the new contract which could stall balancing the budget for Orange County.

“The contracts do not need to be finalized to pass the budget,” County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said. “But the talks with the union are at a stalemate.”

The salary compensation for the elected officials will be discussed during the 2 p.m. Monday Commissioners Court meeting helad at 123 South 6th Street in Orange.

The negostions with the Sheriff’s Employee Union Contract will continue at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Commissioners Court room. The meeting will be open to the public.