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Travis deputies seek $9 million budget increase

Friday, August 13, 2010 by Michael Kanin

The Travis County Sheriff’s Department and the union that represents its officers have asked the Commissioners Court for up to $9 million in one-time budget increases for the 2010 fiscal year. That figure does not include the potential annual loss of $1 million in savings that would be triggered by a further request to change the structure of the department’s pay cycle.


The testimony came after Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton warned commissioners in a letter that his department couldn’t afford to bear the burden of more cost cutting (See In Fact Daily, July 28, 2010). Hamilton and his command staff put that statement into perspective as they took their turn at a commission budget work session Thursday.


“I can tell you that the crime rate in Travis County has gone up, and it continues to go up,” Hamilton said. “We keep on maintaining the same kind of manpower and individuals expecting us to do more with less. I can tell you that we have been doing more with less.


“We are down to the bone. There is no fat.”


The largest chunk of the proposed increase appears to be more than $6 million worth of pay and benefits increases that would bring the salary of county sheriff’s deputies up to the level of their peers around the Capital region. “We are about 9 percent behind our market,” said Brett Spicer, who chairs the Travis County Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Association’s Political Action Committee.


“Currently our officers are paid 20 percent behind their counterparts at (the Austin Police Department)…It’s our members’ position that they’re out there doing the work day in and day out…they would like to be compensated in accordance with their market,” he said.


Under the proposal, funds would also be dedicated to hire a host of new officers, including 58 in the corrections department and 24 that could be assigned to patrol duty. During the hearing, Major Phyllis Clair told the commissioners that she had been diverting deputies assigned to traffic duty so that they could help answer emergency calls during high volume periods.


“We’re pretty much robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Hamilton.


Clair’s plan for her 24 officers would be phased over two years. The corrections department, in the person of Captain Bennie Cureton, offered a three-year plan. At the hearing, union officials indicated that they would be receptive to a phased staffing increase.

County Judge Sam Biscoe told In Fact Daily it was too early in the process for him to predict what, if any, upward adjustments could be made to the Sheriff’s department’s 2010 budget. “We don’t know the full revenue picture, so a lot depends on that,” he said. “My guess is that it will be probably another three weeks before we know for sure.”


For her part, Clair said that her officers would continue to make the best of their situation. “Our officers will continue to prioritize the calls and get to the priority calls as quickly as they can,” she said.


Then she pointed to a presentation made by local EMS officials just before her department took the floor. “In the previous presentation…EMS has got a priority response time of 9 minutes, I think is what it is,” she continued. “If they get there…and there is danger still at the scene, they’re not going in because they can’t without risk to themselves—and that’s not how they’re trained. So they’re staged until a patrol officer shows up and makes the scene safe.


“And I think that’s the biggest priority right there for us.”

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