WILLACY COUNTY, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Financial help is on the way for Willacy County Sheriff’s Deputies and jailers.

Senate Bill 22, which took effect September 1, established a grant program to raise their pay to a statewide minimum standard.

The new program was intended for rural counties to make pay rates more competitive. Jose Salazar, Willacy County Sheriff, said the money was distributed based on county population. “Our county, since we are, in population less than fifty thousand. We are eligible for about three hundred and fifty thousand dollars,” Salazar said.

Salazar said the current annual base pay for Deputies is $37,530, with jailers earning $28,120. Senate Bill 22 raised those amounts to $45,000 for Deputies and $40,000 for jailers.

Salazar said this should help the county retain current staff members. He added that his department had lost about 22 jailers during his time as Sheriff.

Salazar said some employees quit after a year, and some resign less than six months after being on the job. “They all pretty much cited the same thing. They found a better paying job elsewhere,” Salazar added.

Salazar said that while the extra funds will help keep current employees, he didn’t think it would do much to add any new ones.

He said most of the grant money would be used to bring Deputies and jailers up the the new minimum standard, leafing little left over for recruitment.

He said the county auditor’s office was looking at the numbers to see how much money would be left over. He acknowledged the county had been successful attracting new Deputies, partly because they had more opportunities to earn extra money.

Salazar said, “My Deputies are eligible to work other overtime grant programs that we have running right now. So they’ve been able to supplement their income somewhat.”

Salazar said jailers don’t have those same options because the county doesn’t have a lot of overtime grants available, and that hurt retention. He said trying to cover shifts when the jail is short staffed can cause employees to be overworked.

Salazar also said it was challenging when jailers had the option to walk across the street and apply at the private prison next to the county facility.

He said maintaining staff had been such an issue that the jail only filled all its open positions a couple weeks ago. “This is the first time, since I’ve been Sheriff, that I’ve been fully staffed at the jail. And I was just told by my jail administrator we’re probably going to be losing two jailers here, very soon,” Salazar said.

Salazar applauded the legislature for providing the funding to make working for the Sheriff’s Department more financially viable. “It starts with pay, you know.

We have to take care of our people. The state has done, in my opinion, a great job by bringing forth this Senate bill. Making this into law and help create that funding opportunity.”, Salazar said. He added that county officials had also discussed raising the pay for these jobs.