Terrebonne to consider constable, justice raises

Terrebonne Parish constables and justices of the peace could be in line for a considerable raise next month.

The parish council’s Budget and Finance Committee will consider a proposal to raise pay for constables and justices of the peace to $800 per month at its Monday meeting. If the committee approves the measure, the raise will go to a public hearing for final approval at the council’s Feb. 8 meeting.

The proposed bump would mean a significant raise for the local, small claims court workers who currently receive $425 per month. The $375 raise would amount to an 88 percent bump from their current pay. According to parish documents, the raise for the 18 total employees, one constable and one justice for each ward, would cost the parish more than $94,000 per year after including increased fringe benefit costs and a raise in mileage reimbursement.

Ward 4 Justice Cheryl Authement Blanchard has been a justice of the peace for 30 years, and she said she has seen one raise in her time working. Blanchard said she was not aware of the proposed raises, but said they would be welcome news.

“That’s wonderful because we’re really underpaid, you know?” Blanchard said.

Ward 8 Constable Lloyd Gibson also remembers one raise in his 36 years as constable. Gibson, a former sheriff’s office deputy, also said the time is right for another bump in pay for the job. He mentioned the Lafourche Parish council increasing constable and justice pay to $800 last month as evidence that Terrebonne could also foot the bill.

“I know it’s long overdue if they can afford it. I don’t know their budget. But for me, as a constable, it’s long overdue,” Gibson said. “And Terrebonne Parish is richer than Lafourche Parish, so if Lafourche can afford it, Terrebonne ought to afford it.”

Councilman Gerald Michel said the parish’s current tight budget due to declining sales tax revenues make this a bad time to approve the raises. Michel cited the salary and hiring freezes for parish government employees as evidence the parish should not be providing the pay bumps at this time.

“I think that Parish President Gordy Dove requested a freeze in salaries and a freeze in hiring, and this flies right in the face of that. The second thing I think is these are elected officials who knew what they were going to get paid when they ran for the office,” Michel said. “My question is if a change is needed when it comes to constables and when it comes to justices of the peace, we might want to consider the change needs to be to eliminate them.”

The local ward courts handle weddings and small claims, many times in relation to eviction notices. Ward 6 Constable Kyle Neal said constables also personally know most residents in their area and can act as a liaison between the larger local and state law enforcement entities and the public.

“We’re more of a hands-on kind of department to where your normal residents know your constables, know your JP. We’re capable of resolving and discussing the matter with a real good rapport,” Neal said.

Michel cited the services constables and justices provide as further evidence they do not currently need a raise, as those services are also additional income streams. According to Blanchard, a fee for an eviction notice is $80, which is split equally between the justice drawing up the notice and the constable serving the tenant. The eviction notices are not consistent and also dependent on location. Gibson said sometimes he has to serve notices “quite often” and other times “not too often,” but enough to keep him busy. Blanchard said evictions in her more rural ward are all related to rental homes. She said were she in a ward with apartment complexes, she would receive additional fee money.

Councilman Dirk Guidry, the newly-elected council chair, said he supports the raise proposal. Guidry said he has seen some constables receive around $140 for a month after deductions for parish benefits. He also said constables do not get reimbursed for any driving they do throughout the community, instead only being paid for driving to training. He said since the parish administration has not objected to the raises on a financial basis, the raise would help constables and justices do their job effectively.

“If they’re going to do the job the proper way it’s supposed to be done, we need to give them a little bit more money, you know?” Guidry said.

Michel said he would not be concerned if the lack of raises would limit the parish’s ability to find candidates for the positions. He said he believes the local sheriff’s office and Houma Police Department could handle the duties covered by the local courts.

“Honestly I don’t care if no one runs for those positions because I feel those positions are outdated at this point. I think the sheriff’s office and the police department, I think they do wonderful, wonderful jobs, and I don’t see the need for that,” Michel said.

Councilman Gerald Michel