FLORENCE — The Lauderdale County Commission passed a budget of more than $35 million Monday that reflects a revised pay scale for sheriff's deputies and $1,500 across-the-board pay raise for the remaining county employees.

Commission Chairman Danny Pettus said the fiscal 2019-20 budget also includes the purchase of some major pieces of equipment, and matching funds for work on a new bridge at Lauderdale 16.

"We really had to wrestle with this budget," Pettus said. "Fortunately, all of our departments have been wonderful in watching their budgets."

Four large dump trucks for paving work, a road grader and a $500,000 compactor are among equipment that had to be included in the budget, he said.

"It just seems like it's been one of those years when everything breaks down," Pettus said.

Sheriff Rick Singleton had asked the commission to consider changing the pay scale for deputies and jailers when they go over the budget. Singleton had lobbied for the deputy and jailer raises for several years.

Pettus said the change will cost approximately $300,000.

"It's something we looked at and realized we can do from year to year," he said. "We want our law enforcement to be safe and well qualified."

Singleton told them he would like the starting pay for deputies to be at least $36,000 a year, and $30,000 a year for corrections officers. Education, training and experience could boost a new hire's starting pay.

One of the driving issues behind the requested pay raises is retention, said Singleton, who recently lost four deputies to other jobs. He said the pay grade change also is needed is to eliminate the chances of workers earning more than their supervisors.

The sheriff's pay also will be increased from the existing annual salary of $78,760 to $96,760 a year, which is more in line with the pay of sheriffs of similar size counties in Alabama.

Singleton thanked the commission for revising the pay grades.

"I don't think there has been a group of commissioners who have ever been more committed to the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Office than these five people sitting here today," he said.

The county also is spending approximately $1 million more than expected on replacing the Lauderdale 16 bridge across Cypress Creek, officials said. Federal funds are paying 80 percent of the cost of the project, but the county's match now is expected to be $2 million or more.

Built in 1935, the 170-foot long existing bridge has been closed since July 2017 due to structural concerns. The new bridge will be some 550 feet because it must be relocated due to various environmental and cultural artifacts.

Pettus said the budget will require taking some $4 million out of the county's reserve funds, but much of the bridge costs will be refunded through the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program.

"It's going to look worse on paper than it will at the end of the year, but it's going to make it look like a huge deficit up front," he said.

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bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski

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