However, the Harris County Budget Management office claims HCDO's information is incomplete and denies the claim that current salaries are a deterrent to new employees.
HCDO President David Cuevas sent a letter to Harris County Commissioners Court on July 28 requesting a pay increase for sheriff’s office deputies and improved working conditions for county detention officers. According to Cuevas’ letter, a Harris County deputy would need a 23.81 percent raise to receive the same pay as officers of the same rank in Dallas, Houston, Austin and other Texas police departments, including the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The starting salary for a Harris County sheriff’s office deputy is $44,862, while a Houston Police Department officer receives $51,318 after a probation period, Cuevas said in the letter.
In addition, Cuevas said detention officers in the county frequently work two or three overtime shifts a week and have insufficient parking. The budget department stated in its letter that a 520-space parking lot was provided by the county at a cost of $5 million, but Cuevas said he believes the lot lacks security and deputies are often the victims of motor vehicle burglary.
“We have the best employees that the county and the state has to offer, but when you are mentally and physically tired, you feel like the court is not supportive of law enforcement,” Cuevas said.
The county budget department sent a letter to county commissioners Aug. 7 in response to Cuevas' letter compiling data on law enforcement salaries, officer retention and other points raised in the HCDO letter.
The budget office contends that officer compensation includes competitive health and retirement benefits and that the county has absorbed most health care cost increases.
Among the statements in the letter, the budget department also reports:
- The number of positions in the sheriff’s and constables’ offices has increased by 1,000 since 2012, with average total salary increases during that time ranging from 20 to 30 percent.
- Only 1 percent of deputies and only three sergeants have resigned in the last 12 months.
- The total cost to implement the pay raise suggestions proposed by the HCDO would cost $62.1 million.
- The cost to increase the base salary of starting deputies from $44,866 to $49,338 would be about $2 million.
Judith Marshall, director of agenda management in the county budget office, said Tuesday the Aug. 7 letter is the most recent correspondence from the office on the issue.
Cuevas said he believes the numbers provided by the budget management are misleading.
“It’s more than just our salary, it’s our working conditions and safety. And it’s important that we are competitive with our salary so we can hire the most qualified, competent personnel and that costs money,” Cuevas said. “You get what you pay for.”
The issue has not yet come before the Commissioners Court. As of Wednesday, an agenda for the next Commissioners Court meeting Aug. 22 had not yet been released.
Joe Stinebaker, director of communication for Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, said commissioners do not generally comment on proposals before they are formally presented.
“As a general matter of policy, Judge Emmett doesn’t comment in advance on whether he supports proposals that haven’t yet been presented to court members,” Stinebaker said. “The judge probably won’t have any comments until he’s seen the backup information on the financial impact.”