Sheriff needs $1.3 million more next year to address public safety crisis

SAN ANGELO, TX – The Tom Green County Detention Center currently employs 109 prison staff for 150 total positions. In other words, he is 27.3% understaffed. Sheriff Nick Hanna has warned that the situation for prison staff is approaching a crisis situation.

In the current fiscal year, the detention center lost 81 employees and replaced fewer with new recruits. Hanna said he currently has a 28% turnover rate at the prison. The main issue is the low pay for jailers in this county — which equates to about $35,819 a year — compared to other similarly sized correctional facilities in the state. Just about every comparably sized prison 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 pay plan for jailers as well as deputies. This, of course, means taxpayers will have to foot the bill for higher starting salaries and salary increases for senior executives to improve retention.

“Give them a generous pay raise in the future that they can look forward to,” Hanna said.

Hanna seeks pay raises of $4,000 for every five years of longevity from the sheriff’s office, which includes jailers, deputies and commissioned officers.

Last year (in fiscal year 2021), when the prison was packed, Hanna presented the commissioners court with two options. If the commissioners maintained current funding levels, the staff needed to operate the jail at its current capacity would cost the county an additional $16,203.05 per month. If the money wasn’t there, the county would have to house county inmates in other counties, which would cost Tom Green County $75,195 a month. Last year, the going rate for housing an inmate from Tom Green County in a facility in another county 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 the number of jailers needed to operate a facility. If the excessive turnover continues and the number of jailers continues to decline, Hanna said he would be forced to close sections of the prison (the sections are called “pods”). If this happens, the exorbitant monthly bed rental rates paid to other counties will hurt the county’s financial health. We have already witnessed many days over the past two years when the prison population temporarily approaches 600 inmates.

The turnover of jailers is also expensive. At current salaries set by commissioners, Hanna said since January 2020, 84 correctional officers have resigned. During the same period, Hanna hired 70 new correctional officers. It costs the county $6,780.53 to train a new corrections officer, Hanna told the court. Meanwhile, hiring does not replenish staff resignations. This deficit is very costly when the county has to pay overtime at the jail. Hanna said the county paid jailers about $420,000 in overtime in fiscal year 2022.

To combat overtime, Hanna wants money to fully staff open prison positions and add four new full-time positions that will increase inmate capacity, as determined by staffing, from 485 to 541.

Meanwhile, prison isn’t Hanna’s only concern. He has similar problems retaining and recruiting patrol assistants.

In total, 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 it would be difficult to answer Hanna’s call for such a dramatic budget increase in the current environment.

Floyd said that without exceeding the state-mandated 3.5% increase cap for the county’s overall budget that will require voter approval, the county will make about $1.6 million more this year per compared to last year. That $1.6 million includes about $900,000 in property tax revenue that will be generated from new properties on county tax rolls that weren’t there last year. This $1.6 million increase in revenue also means a 4-cent decrease in the county’s property tax rate will need to be enacted to prevent a tax rate cut election.

Floyd cautioned that final revenue figures for the Assessment District have yet to be certified. He expects to have certified revenue amounts next week, but he was fairly certain those certified numbers would match the estimates his staff are currently using.

“We’re already going to spend $1 million more this year on inflation – gas, fuel, food and supplies,” Floyd said. That leaves just one down payment — $600,000 — for the $1.3 million budget increase requested by the sheriff. If it all went to the sheriff, no other department in the county would see a budget increase for anything, be it salaries or even paperclips.

To accommodate the sheriff’s needs, Floyd said the court may have to cut other departments or put it up to voters and let them decide whether raising taxes to avoid a crisis at the sheriff’s office was worth it. The sheriff’s budget comprises about one-third of the county’s budget of $60 million.

The remaining two-thirds of department heads and elected officials have yet to request their budget increases. When they do, a fuller picture of taxpayer exposure to a county tax increase will become clearer.

In November 2021, Lubbock County voters approved a county tax increase to bolster the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office and Jail. It was a canceled election with revenue promised to the sheriff.