Updated – Sworn personnel of the sheriff’s department received a 5 percent cost-of-living raise when the Jefferson County Commission met in Bessemer Thursday.
The raise in the sheriff’s department is on top of the raise given to Jefferson County employees at the beginning of this fiscal year. The county budgeted $819,234 to pay for the sheriff’s department raises from April 1, when the raise goes into effect, through the end of the fiscal year, on Sept. 30.
Sheriff Mark Pettway said the extra pay is needed to keep his department competitive with nearby law enforcement departments.
“We are losing officers, deputies, daily to surrounding agencies,” he said. “We want to maintain those that we have and bring on good people to work inside the sheriff’s department. Everybody works for money, so we want to make sure that we’re competitive.”
Commissioner Lashunda Scales also repeated the concern she expressed during Tuesday’s commission committee meeting that former Sheriff Mike Hale had spent about half of the budgeted overtime money for fiscal 2019 – roughly $3.5 million – before leaving office. He lost his reelection bid to Pettway in November.
Commission President Jimmie Stephens said Tuesday that Hale’s overtime spending was not unprecedented. He noted the need for deputies to be on hand for high school football games, community parades and polling places for the fall election.
Scales wants the spent overtime money restored to the budget of the current sheriff “so we can better protect our citizens within Jefferson County,” she said. “That’s very important that we do that in addition to the 5 percent raise. We support the sheriff’s department and we want to make sure that all monies need to be restored as much as possible.”
Commissioner Joe Knight, who chairs the commission’s finance committee, said he didn’t know whether overtime money spent by the prior sheriff could be restored.
“We haven’t looked at that,” he said. “We don’t have the final numbers yet. I understand her (Scales’) concerns and wanting to do that but we don’t know yet. We’re delving into it.”
In another matter related to the sheriff’s department, commissioners also approved adding 40 vehicles to the county vehicle fleet. Those cars had been in the fleet before they were replaced with new vehicles.
The additional vehicles will be used by school resource officers, largely as a display of the sheriff’s department presence.
During the discussion, Pettway acknowledged that his preference is to have full-time deputies as resource officers in all county schools, not the retired officers who are in place at grade schools and middle schools.
“We’re looking to get together a plan with the Personnel Board to make sure we have something that’s suitable for the people,” the sheriff said. “We have 40 contract deputies now. We want to convert them over to full time.”
Jefferson County pays $700,000 a year for the contract deputies as part of a 3-year contract. The same number of full-time deputies would cost nearly $2.5 million.
Stephens said it’s best that contract deputies be in schools and the county get full-time deputies on the street, where they can patrol. Scales said sometimes less is not best.
“If you’re talking about security and public safety, we never want to … say this costs us so much money, so let’s take this route,” she said. “While that may sound good, is that the best, appropriate practice that we need to do with the challenges that we face today within our schools?”
In its meeting Thursday, the commission also approved accepting a $700,000 grant from the Justice Department to buy body cameras for the sheriff’s department.
This story has been updated to include the cost of the raise.