By Tony Farkas
COLDSPRING — Sheriff Greg Capers, as well as most of this department, along with county residents, put forth an impassioned plea to the San Jacinto County Commissioners’ Court on March 23 for more pay, as Capers said his staffing levels have dropped significantly and is creating an emergency situation in the county.
Charissa Arizpe, a resident of the county, said that in her eyes, heroes are first responders, the military, veterans and single moms, but she is deeply concerned about the state of the Sheriff’s Office.
“We are in incredibly dangerous times, and the very heart of our nation is under attack,” she said. “Law enforcement is the first line of defense.”
Arizpe said that staffing issues have been a problem for a long time, and pay levels are at the heart of it. She cited two deputies that recently left employ because of higher wages at the Coldspring-Oakhurst school system.
“I would say today that we are in an emergency situation that calls for immediate action,” she said.
She also said that consideration of raises comes at the right time, since the county begins budget deliberations in May.
“We can all agree that the safety of human life should be at the top of the county’s priority list,” Arizpe said. “The county has grown 10.62 percent since the last census, and we have failed to meet that grown with providing suitable members of law enforcement.
“In short, we have been measured and found wanting,” she said.
Arizpe pointed to the recent shooting death of Deputy Neil Adams, who was killed while working a second job to make ends meet.
“How is it that men and women in this county are asked to work in an area that involves life and death for pay that is the equivalent of working at Hobby Lobby?” she asked.
County Judge Fritz Faulkner said that the county doesn’t give raises in the middle of the budget year, but is considering using grant funds for raised. He also said that when raises are given, they’re usually given to all employees, not just one department.
As he was about to be questioned, Faulkner denied any more comment from Arizpe, saying she had her turn.
Capers said that as of last week, he is down 20 positions; Faulkner pointed out that the sheriff has the positions, just no applicants. However, Capers said that pay scales at other entities has made it extremely difficult to hire new employees and keep existing ones.
“We’re in an emergency right now,” he said. “Our jail can technically be shut down because we don’t have the correct manpower.”
County Commissioners to a man commiserated with the crowd, even asking them if they had complained to the school board about what they’ve done in hiring away deputies and having a tax rate that supports it.
County resident Sheena Bass told commissioners that was beside the point.
“Don’t talk about things that shouldn’t be talked about,” Bass said. “Talk about what we’re requesting for our police force, for our families, for our children, for their protection.”
While no action was taken on a motion by Commissioner Donnie Marrs pushing a $2,000 raise, Faulkner said they will have to seek an opinion from the Attorney General on whether the county can spend its money as they see fit.
In other business, the county:
•approved transferring $156,250 in grant funds to PB&SC Water for improvements;
•tabled a vote on an engineer for construction of a new Sheriff’s dispatch office;
•approved Langford Engineers for administration of a hazard mitigation grant;
•approved hiring Bleyl Engineering for work on the hazard mitigation grant;
•approved designating a printer as surplus;
•approved the rehire of Charles Doughtery for the SJCSO;
•approved amending buyout guidelines to use pre-Harvey valuations;
•tabled a request for funds for the Trinity County Food Bank; and
•approved $4,256 for underground electrical service to be run to a proposed animal control center.