Angelina County commissioners, sheriff square off in tense budget workshop

Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - At times, things got a little tense during an Angelina County commissioners court budget workshop Tuesday morning when Sheriff Greg Sanches tried to make the case for a 2-cent tax increase to pay for six new deputies and new patrol units.

The budget workshop boasted a standing room-only crowd of vocal Angelina County residents. Chief Deputy Roy Owens stood with Sanches at the podium during the budget workshop.

At the beginning of the budget workshop Angelina County Judge Wes Suiter cautioned the people in attendance that the meeting was a budget workshop and that he would "clear the courtroom" if the outbursts got out of hand.

Precinct 3 County Commissioner Terry Pitts said the commissioners tried to trim the county's 2017 budget as much as possible and said the sheriff's office has had a manpower increase in recent years.

Owens replied that the sheriff's office has hired one new dispatcher and that Burke funded the deputy that the Angelina County Sheriff's Office hired to provide security at Burke facilities.

"We have a lot of people that wear many hats," Sanches said. "We have to do it that way."

Sanches added that the fact that the sheriff's office only has five deputies on the streets serving a county with a population of more than 40,000 people "is not right to the people."

"It's pretty obvious they're concerned," Sanches said. "That's why so many of them are here."

The sheriff said that all of the county commissioners said they support law enforcement when they were running for office, but they don't do so when it comes time to put the annual budget together.

"We're big proponents of law enforcements always have always will be. Like I said couple of us have had careers in law enforcement. I've had a career in law enforcement. Others are here just to fulfill their requirements of the office as a commissioner as through provide funding for the operation of the county," Suiter said.

Pitts replied that Angelina County has 30 other departments that are asking for a combined $130,000 increase in their budgets, and the sheriff's office is asking for nearly a million dollars.

"A 2-cent tax hike means people are going to be paying about $20 more a year on a $100,000 property valuation," Sanches said. "It'll mean we'll be able to hire six more deputies and get new cars to do a better job of what we need to do to protect out there."

At one point, Sanches said he is not going to back down on his request.

"I'm not backing down because it's what we need," Sanches said.

During one exchange between Suiter and the sheriff, an exasperated Sanches responded to a statement from the county judge by saying, "Oh, bull."

Later, Suiter said that people in the audience had previously taken him aside and said, "Don't raise our taxes."

"It's pretty obvious that you don't want to support law enforcement," Sanches said.

"You can put any spin on it you want to," Suiter replied.

"It's not a complicated issue," Sanches said.

Toward the end of the budget workshop, Pct. 4 County Commissioner Bobby Cheshire asked for a show of hands from the other commissioners of who would support hiring one new deputy, and he was the only one who raised his hand.

"I think we need to do this incrementally" Cheshire said. "You can't pay law enforcement what they're worth. You pay teachers what they're worth either. Same difference."

Suiter told the audience that the public will be able to comment when the commissioners court schedules a budget hearing.

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