Merritt seeks pay raise
Orange County Sheriff Keith Merritt was expecting a raise this year, but since the pay of elected officials has been frozen by county commissioners — it won’t be happening.
To make matters worse, Merritt said as of Oct. 1, the chief deputy, Clint Hodgkinson, will be making a considerable amount more than himself. The chief deputy’s and other personnel raises are due to an agreement made as part of a four year contract between the county and the union.
“The chief deputy is well worth the money, but am I not worth it ?” Merritt asks.”It just hurts they chose to do that.”
Merritt said his job as sheriff comes with a large responsibility as he manages the biggest budget in the county. He is also responsible for 147 employees and about 200 inmates. Although, he said he didn’t expect anything special, just what he feels is owed to him.
To avoid any problems, Merritt said he began talking to county commissioners in May about the upcoming budget. He also said during last year’s budget he was not included when other elected officials were given raises.
“I was told they were going to look at it and make it right,” Merritt said.
John Dubose, Pct. 3 county commissioner, regrets not being able to give Merritt his raise as they had intended. He said it was unfortunate Merritt was left out of the raise process, but it was not brought to their attention before the budget was adopted. Once the budget is adopted, it must be strictly followed.
“An error was made and this is not the year to fix it,” Dubose said. ‘This is one of the toughest budget years we’ve had.”
Dubose stated, he too is not happy the chief deputy is making more money per year than the sheriff. However, Merritt did receive a two step pay increase two years ago from the adopted matrix.
“Which was a large increase at the time,” Dubose added.
According to Dubose, no county employees, with the exception of the sheriff’s office, will be receiving cost of living raises this budget year.
“I am not willing to take an increase (in pay) when I couldn’t give it to the others,” Dubose said.
Dubose said he is concerned about the consequences if they were to give Merritt a raise and omitted raises for other elected officials such as the county and district clerks and constables.
In addition, Dubose added Merritt is paid $88,400 per year which is comparable to what a sheriff is paid in a county of similar size and population.
“I am still not happy the chief deputy will be making more money, but I look forward to future years to make it right,” Dubose said.
For now, Merritt says he will continue to do his job.
“I will have to put it behind me and do the job I was elected to do,” he said.