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Still no decision on sheriff’s budget request

By Martha Charrey
San Jacinto News-Times editor

It was déjà vu in San Jacinto County Commissioners’ Court last week as another debate erupted concerning a repeated request to approve an 84-hour work week for law enforcement and detention center employees to alleviate four hours of compensatory time every pay period.

San Jacinto County Chief Deputy Joe Schultea’s request was the same as before.

“Approve an 84-hour work week for deputies and detention center employees to stop the increase of overtime created by the shortage of personnel in the sheriff’s office and establish a cap on the amount of compensatory time afforded to all sheriff’s office personnel,” Schultea said. “This cap is an amount the elected sheriff has agreed to and will be enforced by all supervisors in the sheriff’s office should the current comp and holiday time be paid off and rule established.”

The original payoff Schultea requested is an estimated amount to pay-off all comp and holiday time for all employees in the sheriff’s department totaling about $189,000.

“However, the civilian employees, administrative personnel and dispatch are not in an overtime crisis. We are managing their overtime by having them take time off. Patrol and jail only creates a pay-off of comp time totaling about $75,000,” Schultea said.

Currently the sheriff’s department is working an 80-hour pay period with 12-hour shifts.

“This means four hours of comp time automatically goes onto the comp book for each patrol officer and jail employee each pay period. I still hold that paying those four hours as straight time each pay period is better than having to pay overtime at time and a half later in the budget year,” Schultea said.

The increase from an 80-hour to an 84-hour pay period will create an increase in salary for those deputies of about 5 percent, according to Schultea.

The number of employees directly affected by this request is 16 patrol deputies, four patrol sergeants, 14 deputy jailers and four jail corporals.

“It does not affect command, detectives, court or transportation,” he said.

Following a debate over the request that lasted for more than an hour and a half, commissioners’ court once again tabled a vote on the agenda item.

During discussions, Schultea told the court that the State Jail Commission has ordered that six more jailers are needed to remain in compliance.

“The commissioners’ court only allowed us two,” he said.

Concerning stats on the department’s current manpower and organization, Schultea said, “Our patrol division operates on four 12-hour shifts. Each shift has three deputies and one sergeant assigned. This puts one deputy north of 150, one deputy south of 150 and one deputy west of 2025. The sergeant floats the entire county and operates as a supervisor and backup to the other deputies. This is a very poor manpower situation considering the amount of high priority calls our deputies make each day. We cannot use the officer to population figure due to our county’s layout, but even if we could, that federal example says we should have six per shift instead of four. Overtime, by itself, shows us seven deputies short.”

According to Schultea, the plan of an 84-hour pay period after paying off all comp time is a major improvement to keeping his deputies working.

“Right now, by having to send some home to hold down comp time, we are paying deputies to stay home instead of paying them to come to work,” Schultea said.

The average paycheck to pay a deputy for comp time when he leaves employment in San Jacinto County is around $7,000 to $9,000, according to Schultea.

“Last month we lost seven employees due to low pay and four are on the slate to move this or next month,” Schultea said. “When they leave, their comp, holiday and vacation books are paid to them. Comp is paid at time and a half. This money comes out of our payroll budget, greatly reducing that line item and causing a budget failure.”

During an interview with the San Jacinto News-Times, Schultea said, “They (commissioners’ court) blame low revenue on the problem; however, after watching budget workshops for the past two cycles, it is my opinion that the men who are responsible for placing the tax money in the correct place are only placing it into their own road and bridge funds. I would not have requested what we needed had there not been sufficient money to work with. I only requested what we need to supply sufficient protection to the county, maintain protection for our deputies, and to remain in compliance with the State Jail Commission. If we are not in compliance with the jail commission, they could literally close our jail, creating an approximate $1.8 million problem for this county, all while zeroing out $200,000 to $300,000 revenue from contract counties we house inmates for.”

“You need to learn to utilize the resources you have,” Pct. 3 Commissioner Thomas Bonds told Schultea, during the court meeting.

Pct. 4 Commissioner Mark Nettuno echoed that by saying, “Work within your means.”

Pct. 2 Commissioner Donny Marrs made a motion to approve the 84-hour pay period. The motion died for lack of a second.

In other business, commissioners’ court approved to accept the donation of two hand held radios for Pct. 1 Constable Roy Rogers’ office by local business owner John Few.

A request was made by San Jacinto County 911 addressing coordinator Ashley Segovia to possibly change or approve a final street names for E-7 Drive known as Moore Lane and add Goodnight Trail in Pct. 4, and discuss and take action on a conflict of road names between Fomby Road and Oak Ridge Road in Pct. 3.

Following a lengthy debate over the agenda item, a motion was made to delete the name Fomby by Bonds, but it failed after the court abstained from the vote, following Pct. 1 Commissioner Ray McCoppin’s question about how the court would address the street and the situation due to the confusion of the matter.

The court did approve keeping the name of E-7 Drive instead of Moore Lane in Pct. 4, but voted to take up the addition of Goodnight Trail in Pct. 4 at a later date.

Commissioners approved the appointment of Brianna Shaw as election judge for Voting Box 6 and approved the emergency appointment for alternate judge for Box 5, Suzanne Choate, to serve in the Nov. 8, General Election.

No action was taken on an agenda item to approve the hiring and use of a local person knowledgeable in construction to periodically check the progress of the stages on construction of the county’s community shelter project and report back to commissioners’ court on the pace and quality of work being performed until the project is complete.

An agenda item to review and possibly increase bond amounts for certain elected officials was passed with no vote.

San Jacinto County Auditor Carole Martin said, “We are at minimum for the county clerk, treasurer and tax assessor-collector who handles most of the county money. For years those bonds have been $500 to $100,000, depending on the person’s credit rating.”

It was agreed by the court to see what other counties are doing and come back to the agenda item later.

Chief Deputy Schultea was appointed by the court to serve as a liaison to Deep East Texas Council of Government to develop a community plan as part of the Regional Criminal Justice Strategic Plan to receive funding from the Governors Criminal Justice Division.