LOVINGTON — Considering a rapidly increasing population to serve and protect, plus competition with nearby law enforcement agencies for officers, the Lea County Sheriff’s Office has five new deputy positions and increased pay for current deputies.
The Lea County Commission on Thursday unanimously approved the changes that will increase the sheriff’s department budget about 23 percent from $8,455,000 to $10,440,000.
Sheriff Corey Helton told the commission he needed three more patrol deputies and two additional investigators, primarily due to the population increase.
“I think the census says we’re sitting at about 71,000 residents. I think we all know, with the oilfield the way things are, we’re really looking at about 145,000 to 150,000 residents,” Helton said. “They come in and work, depends on the time of the day. That, too, stretches our resources.”
Currently, with only two investigators and a supervisor, his investigative team is overworked and still unable to get to all cases, he said.
“Right now, with the influx of population, even our supervisor is taking cases and a lot of cases are slipping through the cracks,” the sheriff said. “Adding two more investigators will allow us to look at every case that’s generated, every report that’s generated and do every possible thing with these cases for our citizens.”
To explain the need and wisdom of bumping pay for all deputies, Helton was joined by Human Resources Director Craig Bova and Finance Director Chip Low.
Bova said he had compared pay for various positions, from certified deputy to undersheriff, with similar position pay at law enforcement agencies in Eddy County, Carlsbad and Hobbs.
He said, “We are falling behind.” He recommended increases ranging from 93 cents to $7.65 an hour, depending on position in the sheriff’s department and comparison to rates at the other agencies.
“The proposed rates bring us in line with what everybody else is doing. We really wanted to look at certified deputies first,” he said. “This is just a proposal to make us competitive in getting people to come on board and get them to stay.”
After Low described the increase in the budget caused by adding five positions and upping salaries for current deputies, Commissioner Dean Jackson asked him to confirm whether the county could afford the increased budget in the future. Low turned to projections of oil production increases and predictions of doubling production again in the next five years for his answer.
“It’s my belief we’re in the financial position,” Low said.
Emphasizing the need for public safety, Jackson responded, “This is the easiest budget adjustment to approve.”
Commission Chairman Ron Black said he thought the request was “totally justified,” but he hopes to avoid a price war with Hobbs.