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story.lead_photo.caption Sheriff Tim Helder (center) speaks with Justice of the Peace Ann Harbison (right).

FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County's Budget and Finance Committee agreed Thursday to spend millions to boost county employee pay, cover jail expenses and increase manpower for the Sheriff's Office.

If approved by the Quorum Court, move could shrink the county's reserve to $3.9 million next year.

At a glance

The Washington County Budget and Finance Committee approved pay raises for employees and a multi-million request from the sheriff during a special meeting Thursday. The raises and budgets won’t be final, and could change. The Quorum Court approves the 2018 budget in November or December.

Source: Staff report

"It's going to be very hard to make all of this come together without a miracle," said Justice of the Peace Eva Madison, a Democrat representing northeastern Fayetteville.

Madison is chairwoman of the committee.

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Under the proposal, employees will get a 3.5 percent pay raise, costing the county about $1 million per year. Sheriff Office and Detention Center requests would take another $3 million more from the general fund.

The proposals can be changed. The Quorum Court must approve a budget by the end of December.

Madison said the Quorum Court must consider increasing the millage rate, even though next year is an election year. Madison previously has been against raising the rate.

But, justices of the peace are struggling with a projected $5 million shortfall between spending and revenue in the $67 million budget. The property tax millage rate was lowered to 3.9 mills from 4.4 mills in 2011. The maximum rate allowable is 5 mills. Increasing the millage rate by 0.5 would bring in about $1.6 million, records show.

Justice of the Peace Ann Harbison, a Democrat representing southern Washington County, said she thought the Quorum Court could find $1 million to cover the employee raises without raising the millage but that won't be enough to cover the sheriff's requests, she said.

Harbison declined to say from where the money for employees would come.

The pay raise will help keep employees at the county and recruit new ones, said Carl Gales, chief of staff for the county judge. The county has a 13 percent turnover rate this year, according to records released Thursday. On top of that, 42 employees have worked at least 20 years with the county and may soon retire.

The largest requests are from Sheriff Tim Helder, who asked justices of the peace to approve eight more patrol deputies, two deputies for court services, a civilian animal control officer, vehicles and other equipment. The increase would take $1.2 million from the general fund, according to records.

The Sheriff's Office budget would increase from $7.5 million approved for this year to $8.6 million next year, according to budget records. The increase is needed to keep deputies safe and continue to offer quality service, Helder said.

"The bottom line is this: We have needs and they are critical needs," Helder told justices of the peace.

Violence against law enforcement officers is up nationwide, and Washington County deputies aren't immune, Helder said. Two deputies have been shot and seriously hurt in the past three years. Deputies also are stretched thin for other duties, he said.

"We have this manpower shortage that we need to address," said Maj. Rick Hoyt. "Y'all have to make those hard choices, and we're sorry about that, but we have a duty to ask."

The needs are likely to continue to grow, too, Helder said. The number of dangerous calls is increasing, and so are the number of inmates at the Washington County Detention Center, officials said.

The Detention Center's budget request for next year is a little more than $16 million, up from $14.5 million approved for this year. The jail needs transport vehicles and building maintenance and is facing crowding issues, Maj. Randall Denzer said. Less revenue to house inmates is coming in because more people are booked into the jail and remain there without adjudication, he said.

The 710-bed detention center has been housing more than 700 inmates, Denzer said. About two-thirds of those inmates haven't been convicted, Helder said.

"These are just precarious times we are living in right now," Helder said.

NW News on 09/29/2017

Print Headline: County approve raises, increases at Sheriff's Office

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