SAN ANGELO, TX — The Tom Green County Detention Center currently employs 109 jail staff for 150 total positions. In other words, it is 27.3% undermanned. Sheriff Nick Hanna warned that the jail staffing situation is approaching a crisis situation.
In the current fiscal year, the detention center lost 81 employees and replaced less of them with new hires. Hanna said he currently has a 28% turnover rate at the jail. The principle issue is this county’s low pay for jailers — that equals about $35,819 annually — when compared to other similar-sized jail facilities in the state. Just about every jail of comparable size in central and west Texas pays more, he said. Midland County averages $51,276 and even Burnet County averages $49,000 per jailer. Hanna thinks the Tom Green County jail’s human resources problem can be solved by revamping the compensation plan for jailers as well as deputies. This, of course, means the taxpayers will need to foot the bill for higher starting salaries and pay raises for more senior staff to improve retention.
“Give them a generous pay raise in the future that they can look forward to,” Hanna said.
Hanna is seeking $4,000 increases in pay for every five years of longevity with the Sheriff’s Office, which includes jailers, deputies and commissioned officers.
Last year (in FY 2021), when the jail was bulging at the seams, Hanna presented the commissioners’ court with two options. If the commissioners maintained the present funding levels, personnel required to operate the jail at current capacity would cost the county $16,203.05 more per month. If the money wasn’t there, then the county would have to house county inmates at other counties costing Tom Green County $75,195 per month. Last year, the going rate to house a Tom Green County inmate in another county’s facility was $42 per bed per night.
“That rate has increased this year to about $52 per prisoner per night,” Hanna told the court.
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards regulates how many jailers are required to operate a facility. If excessive turnover continues and the number of jailers continues to decrease, Hanna said he will be forced to close off sections of the jail (the sections are called “pods”). If that happens, budget-busting monthly bed rental rates paid to other counties will damage the county’s financial health. We have already witnessed many days over the past two years where jail population temporarily approaches 600 inmates.
The turnover of jailers is expensive, too. At current wages set by the commissioners, Hanna said since January 2020, 84 correctional officers have resigned. Over that same time period, Hanna has hired 70 new correctional officers. It costs the county $6,780.53 to train a new correctional officer, Hanna told the court. Meanwhile, the hiring isn’t replenishing the staff from the resignations. That deficit is very expensive when the county has to provide overtime pay at the jail. Hanna said the county has paid jailers about $420,000 in overtime in FY 2022.
To combat the overtime, Hanna wants money to fully staff the open jail positions and add four new full-time positions that will increase the inmate capacity, as determined by staffing, from 485 to 541.
Meanwhile, the jail isn’t Hanna's only concern. He is having similar troubles retaining and recruiting patrol deputies.
In all, Hanna requested a budget increase of $1,262,596.75; $756,469.31 for the jail and $506,127.44 for the rest of the Sheriff’s Office.
County Judge Steve Floyd said answering Hanna’s call for such a dramatic budget increase will be difficult in today’s environment.
Floyd said without busting the state-mandated 3.5-percent increase cap for the overall county budget that will require voter approval, the county will realize about $1.6 million more this year over last. That $1.6 million includes about $900,000 in property tax revenue that will be generated from new property on the county tax rolls that wasn’t there last year. That $1.6 million increase in revenue also means a 4-cent decrease in the county property tax rate will need to be enacted to prevent a tax rate rollback election.
Floyd warned that the final revenue numbers from the appraisal district have not yet been certified. He expects to have certified revenue amounts next week but he was fairly certain those certified numbers will fall in line with the estimates his staff is currently using.
“We’re already going to spend $1 million more this year on inflation — gas, fuel, food, and supplies,” Floyd said. That leaves only a downpayment — $600,000 — for the Sheriff’s requested $1.3 million budget increase. If all went to the sheriff, no other county departments will see budget increases for anything, be it salaries or even paperclips.
To meet the needs of the Sheriff, Floyd said the court may need to cut other departments or take it to the voters and let them decide if a tax increase to stave off a crisis at the Sheriff’s Office is worth it. The sheriff’s budget comprises about a third of the $60 million county budget.
The other two-thirds of county department heads and elected officials have yet to ask for their budget increases. When they do, a more complete picture of taxpayer exposure to a county tax increase will become more clear.
In November 2021, the voters in Lubbock county approved a county tax increase to shore up the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office and jail. It was a rollback election with revenue promised to the sheriff.