Deputies and staff with the Dade County Sheriff’s Office got good news as Sheriff Ray Cross gave employees a pay raise this week of 8% in addition to the 2% increase approved for all county employees by commissioners in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget.
Cross sent a letter to commissioners requesting the pay raise and explaining why the raise was being given.
“Because of the continued loss of officers and other DCSO personnel, I had a salary analysis from four of our surrounding counties conducted,” Cross said in the letter. “We found Dade County Sheriff’s Office officers and personnel to be unacceptably below the rate of pay in comparison to these counties.
Therefore I am requesting pay raises for the Dade County Sheriff’s Office officers and personnel to try and stop the exodus of the personnel who leave for more money.
Not only are we expending county funds on these personnel who leave, we experience a gap in service because our seasoned and trained officers are being replaced with new rookie officers who have to be FTO (Field Training Officer) trained for a minimum of 6 weeks before they can patrol alone.
Please find attached a list from the DCSO (Sheriff and Jail) of personnel who have left and the monetary deficit it has placed on our budget.”
The letter requesting a raise for Sheriff’s employees was the second one Cross had sent to commissioners. Cross said the first letter requested a hazardous pay increase when they had been talking with Rumley about the potential to pay the increase through CARES Act funds, but had changed their minds because the raises would only be temporary and he and Chief Deputy Barry Irwin wanted to find a way to give a permanent raise.
In the last seven years, according to the attachments to the letter from Cross, the jail has lost 60 employees and 29 Sheriff’s Office personnel which averages out to 8.5 jail employees a year and 4 Sheriff’s office personnel a year. Cost of training for jail employees is $2095.00 each and only five employees were retained within the Sheriff’s Department, meaning a cost of $115,225.00 over seven years, or a loss of $16,461 a year. Certified Sheriff’s officer training is $5,500 for a total of $159,500 over seven years, or a loss of $22,785.71 each year. In training alone, the Sheriff’s Department is losing approximately $39, 246 dollars each year. That cost does not include the pay and benefits officers receive while in training, cost of uniforms, or cost of gas while traveling to training.
Cross said the department has become a training ground where Dade County’s taxpayers are paying for training and then the officers leave for better pay. In Marion jailers alone are paid more starting out than most of Dade’s patrol officers. Another nearby county recently gave their employees a 10% raise and they were already paying more than Dade. Cross said he had experienced employees talking about going to the other county. Cross said it is not just about the money, but having experienced officers familiar with Dade being replaced by rookies just learning the county and their job.
The total cost of the raises for the year will be $140,000. Cross said they did not know what their approved budget was going to be, but they did their research in the meantime. Once the budget was approved by the commission, they found a way to give the raises. Cross and Irwin were able to work within the approved FY 2021 budget to give their employees the 8% raise and Cross said they are still under budget, even with the raise. Cross and Irwin have opted not to take the raise.
Response to the letter by commissioners has been mixed. Most of the commissioners agree that the officers are underpaid compared to other counties, but feel they were blindsided by the pay raise.
“Our attorney says he can do this,” Rumley said. “He is a constitutional officer. He has the right to do that.”
In fact, because the Sheriff’s Department is public safety, commissioners have to provide whatever Cross feels is necessary even if it bankrupts the county. A fact Rumley has pointed out multiple times during previous budget talks, while praising Cross for being willing to work with the commission and adjust his budget when asked. Rumley said Cross has been able to work with his approved FY 2021 budget to give the raises and still stay within the budget, but felt for the rest of the year Cross will have to live close and watch his budget.
Commissioner Robert Goff, who has been out of town, said he had not had a lot of time to look at the information sent by Rumley from Cross or talk to the other commissioners which he would like to do, but he saw some increases in the Sheriff’s budget before they approved their balanced FY 2021 budget. Goff said he thought the increases were temporary and a part of the COVID funding. Goff said he was not opposed to a raise for the Sheriff’s Department, but 8% seems a little hefty. On the other hand, Goff said the Sheriff’s Department employees don’t make enough anyway.
“I felt the commissioners were blindsided by this pay increase,” Commissioner Lamar Lowery said. “We just finished our budget and one month into it we get a mandate from the sheriff for a huge pay increase across the board. I don’t think other departments will understand why they also didn’t get 8% more. Taxpayers should also be concerned about what this will do to next year’s budget and property taxes.”
Commissioner Allan Bradford simply said, “As a constitutional officer he can do that.”
Commissioner Phillip Hartline did not respond.