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Local News

September 17, 2013

Commissioners recommend pay raises, more money for sheriff

Courthouse security steps could be on fast track

DUNCAN — Stephens County Commissioners recommended a new budget Monday that includes pay raises for some employees and money for hiring three sheriff’s deputies to enhance security at the Stephens County Courthouse.

If the same plan is approved by the Stephens County Excise-Equalization Board, Sheriff Wayne McKinney said he would move quickly to hire the three deputies and take other steps to beef up courthouse security.

He said he could use money from cash accounts his office maintains to pay for fencing and automated gates to secure the west courthouse parking lot. The area would then be restricted to sheriff’s officials and deputies and some courthouse personnel.

He wants to move quickly on enhancing security but says the effort should start with additional money from the county’s general fund — it’s main checking account — to hire the deputies.

“I don’t have the staffing levels to do that right now,” McKinney said.

Although the plan recommended by county commissioners includes that additional money, the Excise Board has final say on the budget.

That board could vote on a budget at its next meeting Sept. 25, and one member — Todd Churchman — has voiced concerns about giving McKinney’s office a significant increase in general fund money.

The plan recommended by county commissioners would give McKinney’s office $731,458 from the general fund, up from about $611,000 the office ultimately received in the budget that expired June 30.

County commissioners postponed voting on their budget recommendation last week after Chairman Dee Bowen said he wanted to know precisely how much raises would cost for county employees who get their salaries from the general fund.

According to figures provided Monday, the price tag would be $79,359 and Bowen said he was comfortable with that.

Under the proposal, first deputy employees in county offices would get 10-percent raises with other deputies getting 5 percent.

The money would cover raises for about 30 courthouse deputy employees, although some offices could decide to give raises to other workers who are paid from fees or other sources.

The raises would not apply to the sheriff’s office. McKinney said he had more pressing funding priorities, including courthouse security. Elected officers also are not included, nor are Stephens County jailers or county fairground employees who are paid through different accounts.

McKinney said if his general fund request is approved, he hopes to hire the new deputies and take other security measures as quickly as possible.

Officials had started prohibiting courthouse visitors from entering through the entrance on the ground floor next to the west parking lot. But fire officials said that can’t be done unless the west parking lot also is off limits to the general public, McKinney said.

McKinney wants to install decorative security fencing and gates so only authorized personnel and vehicles are allowed in the parking lot. That could cost more than $50,000 and McKinney said he is willing to use his cash accounts to pay for it.

He also wants a secured vestibule built in the first-floor lobby area for deputies and requiring all visitors to pass through metal detectors. Additional cameras, computers and other equipment also are needed, McKinney said.

He said he is willing to help pay for some of that equipment, but says county commissioners should provide some funding, too.

“This can’t just be a mandate for when we have high-profile things, this needs to be everyday,” McKinney said.

If funding for the deputies comes through and other steps are funded, most of the measures could be implemented by the end of the year, he said.

Commissioner Lonnie Estes said he wants to see steps taken as soon as possible.

“People will still have access to all the offices, it’s just a matter of public safety,” Estes said. “It may be a little inconvenient for some people but it’s what we have to do to make it safe.”

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