The Warren County Board of Commissioners continues to wrestle with two issues that hold up finalization of the proposed 2019-20 county budget: whether to fund new detention center positions when two are vacant, and whether to fund employee pay raises when a salary study covering all county positions is proposed.

A budget public hearing and regular board meeting Monday night revealed that commissioners need more information before they can reach a consensus on either issue.

Detention center positions

In his budget recommendation for the upcoming fiscal year, Warren County Manager Vincent Jones includes a total of $43,982 for funding two new positions for a half fiscal year. The new positions would primarily be dedicated to transporting detainees to obtain needed services.

During a May budget work session, Sheriff Johnny Williams told commissioners that it had been difficult to fill existing vacancies at the detention center because it is hard for small counties like Warren to compete with salaries offered by more urban neighboring counties. 

He said that, with the vacancies, officers in supervisory positions must often fill in on their days off so that shifts can be fully staffed for both work at the detention center and transportation needs. Williams added that some officers considered quitting their jobs due to the strain, and that the new positions he is asking for would fill a basic need so that supervisory officers can return to their primary duties.

The sheriff also suggested that the two new positions would be easier to fill because they would primarily focus on transporting inmates, meaning they would include time outside the detention center setting.

Detention Center Chief Administrator Shawn Bridges added that the duty of transporting detainees currently falls on just two people.

During Monday’s budget public hearing, Bridges said that the new positions are desperately needed for transporting detainees to medical appointments, legal proceedings and for other matters to and from other counties. He added that the entire process of taking people to appointments, waiting and returning often takes 12-14 hours each day, every day, seven days per week.

Bridges said that the currently vacant detention center positions, which are being advertised, are completely different from the new requested positions.

Warren County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Lt. Mike Wells said that retention of law enforcement officers is a serious problem, that many people leave after three years to seek positions in other counties with higher salaries and better benefits. He said that better benefits, equipment and salaries are needed to keep officers in Warren County.

Sheriff’s Deputy Tony Marrow agreed, saying that there is a widespread shortage of law enforcement officers. He added that Warren County’s starting salary for sheriff’s officers is lower than other counties. Because of that, officers complete training in Warren County, but leave after three years. Marrow said that fewer deputies means fewer people to respond to calls.

Lt. John Branche told commissioners that Warren County has gained a reputation for being the place to go to complete law enforcement certification before moving on to higher-paying positions in another county. He said that he has seen many officers leave after three years, adding that higher salaries would make a difference in retaining officers.

“We owe our citizens good service,” Branche said. “Good service comes from good officers.”

During discussion following the hearing, the county manager said that, based on information provided by the sheriff, the county’s human resources department worked on a proposal that could raise salaries for deputies by $1,500. Information will be presented to board members for future consideration.

Jones added that he asked county commissioners to support a proposed salary study for all county positions in order to meet needs, such as those expressed by the sheriff’s office.

Employee salaries

In his proposed budget, Jones included plans for employees who have worked with the county for at least two years to see salary progression increases ranging from 1-2.5 percent, depending on length of employment. He also proposed an employee compensation study.

County Human Resources director Lisa Alston told commissioners that four county departments have requested salary reclassifications: Cooperative Extension (4-H Program), Department of Social Services, Senior Center and Health Department. She said that the proposal would mean an increase of $16,000 not currently included in the proposed budget.

In response to previous board questions, Alston said that the county currently budgets $10 million for salaries. She said that salary increases for county employees would raise that budget line item as follows: 1 percent increase, $102,007; 1.5 percent increase, $154,060; and 2 percent increase, $205,514.

Alston reported that 2017 was the last year that county employees received cost of living pay adjustments. 

Commissioners raised questions about how future county budgets could be impacted by reclassification requests and the employee salary study. The board considered the possibility that raising taxes in the future could be the only way to fund employee salary increases.

Jones suggested that, after the proposed 2019-20 budget is approved, the county study revenue sources carefully to consider other options before raising taxes. 

Currently, the proposed budget holds the county tax rate at 79 cents per $100 valuation.

The board will hold its next budget meeting at 6 p.m. on June 19 at the Warren County Armory Civic Center, 501 U.S. Hwy. 158 business east, Warrenton.