Lawrence County Sheriff Mike Branham proposes pay raises for staff

LAWRENCE CO. – The budget process for Lawrence County offices has begun and several officeholders made their appearance before the Lawrence County Council making their case for their budgets in 2022.

These office holders included the Recorder, Clerk, Surveyor, Treasurer, and Lawrence County Sheriff Mike Branham who made a request.

Sheriff Mike Branham

Sheriff Branham talked to WBIW about the need for some of the requests he made in the 2022 budget for the Sheriff’s Department, Jail, and Dispatch Center.

The Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department oversees one of the largest budgets of the county. A combined total of all three major line items equates to a $4.9 million budget in 2022, compared to a $4.2 million dollar budget in 2021.

  • Sheriff – 2021 budget – $1,489,483 2022 budget request – $1,615,112
  • Jail – 2021 budget – $ 1,739,625, 2022 budget request – $ 2,058,872
  • Public Safety – 2021 budget – $1,032,489, 2022 budget request – $1,225,599

Part of the request was for an 8 percent increase in pay for the entire staff. Branham attributed the request based on the high turnover rates within the department. He stated many of the staff ranging from road officers, corrections officers, and 911 dispatchers had left their positions with the county due to seeking better-paying jobs.

“Over the last few months we have replaced 6 deputies who have left for other high paying occupations, and one leaving for early retirement. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department is short 5 correction officers and lost five dispatchers with only 11 dispatchers left to handle the vacancies and one of those dispatchers is out on medical leave following surgery,” said Sheriff Branham.

Lawrence County 911 Central Dispatch

“If I could ever make a plea to the Lawrence County Council is to leave the pay increases, they are badly needed,” he added.

The starting pay for a deputy in Lawrence County is at $20.16 an hour, sometimes the department is able to hire an experienced deputy at a higher rate of pay. Recently two of the newest deputies came from other law enforcement agencies.

There are currently 26 deputies on staff at the sheriff’s department.

The starting pay for a dispatcher and jailer is approximately $15.79 an hour with these positions all requiring specialized training in a stressful and demanding job. “The dispatchers and jail staff work odd shifts, it may be 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. one shift or 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. depending on the needs of the department for the week. At this time a large amount of overtime is being spent for both the jail and dispatch center.

Jail Budget:

The jail budget from 2015-2021 has only seen modest increases of about 2.7 percent each budget year. Sheriff Branham has tried to be conservative with his budget requests. The receipts from the commissary, grant funding, and Department of Correction have brought in about 13 percent revenue of the jail’s budget.

Sheriff Branham states that part of the jail budget includes animal control, transport officers, court security, correction officers, civil processors, and support staff. Court security is mandated by Trial Rule 19 and the department was certified in 2020 with the court security being in compliance with the order.

“I have requested 3 additional correctional officers for the Lawrence County Jail which is in addition to the 26 correctional officers and 3 transport officers on staff,” said Branham. “Part of the three being hired will be a hybrid system for a 2nd shift animal control officer, and 2nd shift transport officer to reduce that amount of overtime that is being spent on calls past normal office hours.”

A jail study in 2014 was performed by former Lawrence County Sheriff Sam Craig. The study showed that the Lawrence County Jail needed 31 jail officers. At the time of the 2014 study, the jail had two correctional officers short of what was needed. This study was completed prior to the indoor recreation area addition.

The most recent jail study executed in 2019 stated the Lawrence County Jail is understaffed by 7 correctional officers, with only a request for 3 correctional officers in the 2022 budget.

“I did not ask for the seven correctional officers the study said we needed instead hoping the three correctional officers positions will be put into next year’s budget,” he added.

There are 12 additional beds in the jail that is not covered by cameras and require additional security coverage.

The cost of meals have also increased with the sheriff who will be asking for an additional appropriation at Tuesday’s Lawrence Council meeting with 2021 expenses for meals to finish out around $190,000. The meal expenses run between $170,000 to $250,000 for meals. A study was conducted to see if outsourcing the meal service would save money and that study has determined that the sheriff’s department is doing well in keeping costs where they need to be and could not save the county any money for this service.

The Sheriff will be receiving a report shortly from Advance Medical whether there will be any increases in health care for inmates at the jail for 2022.

File Photo

Public Safety Budget:

The Public Safety Budget will also see an increase, which is caused by fuel cost increases after gas prices have started to increase this year. In 2015, the fuel budget was $125,000, with a few decreases around $90,000 a year when fuel prices are low.

The Sheriff’s department includes a fleet of 27 squad cars, three transport vehicles, one animal control vehicle, one civil process vehicle, and three pool squad cars in case of emergency repairs or while a normal squad car is out for maintenance.

According to Sheriff Branham this year a surplus of $275,000 to end 2021 will aid in the budget increase and projected income tax revenue will help go towards the budget increase in 2022.

Lawrence County Council will have a final run-through of the budget that will take place on September 14th, with the final budget adoption on September 28th with the proposed budget looking a whole lot different by the time the budget process is complete.

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